Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Welch: Consent to search voluntary

In U.S. v. Welch, No. 10-14649 (June 13, 2012), the Court rejected a Fourth Amendment challenge to a search, and held that Welch’s prior conviction for robbery qualified a "violent felony" for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA").
Looking for a suspect in an armed robbery, two days after the robbery, but without search or arrest warrants, police knocked on the door of an apartment where the suspect was said to reside, entered with guns drawn and found Welch (not the suspect) "smoking a ‘joint’ and minding a baby." Police asked Welch if they could search his apartment. He initially refused, but a few minutes later consented. The police found a pistol. Welch admitted that it was his.
Rejecting Welch’s argument that the pistol and Welch’s admission were the fruits of an unlawful search, the Court found that Welch had voluntarily consented to the search. The Court noted that Welch "must not have left coerced into consenting when [police] first asked, because he declined to consent... A person who actually says ‘no’ has not been coerced into saying ‘yes.’"
The Court found that Welch consented after police told him that they would get a search warrant and this "would take a while." Welch’s consent was not coerced, just constrained, by having to place his bet on one of two poor alternatives: either police would get the search done quickly and fail to notice his pistol, or if he put them to the trouble of getting a search warrant, they would search more thoroughly because he had inconvenienced them.
Turning to sentencing, the Court recognized that at the time of Welch’s prior Florida robbery, the Florida courts were divided as to whether a "snatching" amounted to robbery. But even assuming only a "snatching," the Court found that a "victim’s natural reaction is likely to be to try to hold on to his or her money or property, leading in many cases to serious injury." The offense therefore qualified under ACCA’s "residual clause," which provides that prior felony is a "violent felony" if it involves a serious risk of physical injury.