Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Spivey: Police Deception Does Not Vitiate Voluntariness of Consent

In United States v. Spivey, No. 15-15023 (June 28, 2017) (William Pryor, Martin, Boggs), the Court held that the use of deception by law enforcement officers did not vitiate the voluntariness of a defendant's consent to the warrantless entry and search of her home.

The majority said that, while deception can be relevant to voluntariness, it would not necessarily or always render consent involuntary; rather, it was just one factor to consider.  At the same time, the court also said that the subjective motivation of the officers, including their use of a pretext or even a deliberate lie, was not relevant to voluntariness, since the inquiry focused on the defendant's state of mind.  In this case, the defendant had reported prior burglaries of her home.  The burglar was arrested and informed the authorities that the home contained a credit card manufacturing plant.  Two federal fraud-task force officers then went to the home on the pretext of following up on the burglary when in fact their real purpose was to investigate the credit card fraud.  They informed her that they were there to investigate the burglaries, and they misrepresented the identity of one of the officers -- a Secret Service Agent who falsely posed as a crime-scene technician and pretended to dust the house for fingerprints.  The majority found that the defendant essentially invited the officers to her home by reporting the burglaries and made the strategic decision/gamble to assume the risk of the officers discovering contraband.

Judge Martin wrote a lengthy dissent, arguing that the consent was not voluntary under the circumstances of this case.  She concluded this way: "The Majority opinion tells police that what happened here is not a problem.  In effect, it teaches police they don't need to get a warrant so long as they can pre-plan a convincing enough ruse.  This is true even if, as here, that ruse includes skirting the limits of the officer's legal authority to investigate only certain crimes.  In doing so, I fear the Majority opinion undermines the public's trust in the police as an institution together with the central protections of the Fourth Amendment.  When I read the record in Ms. Austin's case, I don't believe this is the 'reasonable' conduct our Founders had in mind when drafting the Fourth Amendment."