Waveland, Miss., officers obtain information at the scene of an incident. Consensual encounters can often provide valuable evidence.Photo Dale Stockton
FEATURED IN TRAINING
Knock and talk is a legitimate investigative technique that occurs at the home of a suspect or an individual with information about an investigation. A number of courts recognize that knock and talks are consensual encounters that do not violate the Fourth Amendment. The recently decided case United States v. Crapser addresses the consensual knock-and-talk technique and application.
In Crapser, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of a defendant arrested by Multnomah County (Ore.) Sheriff s deputies for being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of a federal statute. Specifically, the appellate court held that 1) the officers initial contact with the defendant was not a seizure for Fourth Amendment purposes; 2) even if the initial contact was a seizure, it was a Terry stop supported by reasonable suspicion; and 3) the trial court s finding that the defendant s consent to search of his person, motel room and duffel bag was voluntary was not clearly erroneous.
The facts in Crapser are not spectacular but certainly reflect the innocuous encounters police officers routinely face day in and day out. In July 2003, a Multnomah County Sheriff s deputy conducted a traffic stop. During the course of the stop, the deputy located a pressure cooker in the trunk and suspected it had been used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. The driver of the vehicle told the deputy the pressure cooker belonged to Gunnar Crapser, who was staying at a nearby motel with a white female dancer named Summer Twilligear. The deputy also learned Crapser may have had an outstanding warrant.
The deputy decided to go to the motel to investigate whether Crapser was indeed the man wanted in the warrant and to try to knock and talk his way into obtaining consent to search the motel room for unlawful activity related to the manufacture or use of methamphetamine.
The deputy arrived at the motel at approximately 1100 hrs with five officers assisting him. They confirmed with the motel manager that Twilligear was renting a room. The deputies went to the door of the room, which was located next to the parking lot and accessible to any person walking in the parking lot or on the sidewalk that ran between the parking lot and the door. All but one of the deputies wore their uniforms. All of the deputies sidearms were visible (except the one plainclothes officer who was carrying a concealed weapon), but each weapon remained holstered at all times.
Upon the deputies knock on the door, a white woman later identified as Twilligear pulled back the curtains and made eye contact with the deputies. One of the deputies asked her to open the door so he could speak with her. Twilligear nodded and closed the curtains. The deputies remained outside the door, and for approximately two minutes, the deputies could hear what sounded like people moving things around in the room. Twilligear then opened the door and she, along with Crapser, stepped outside, closing the door behind them.
The deputies separated the two individuals and conducted two separate conversations with them while standing approximately 10 25 feet apart. The deputies did nothing to block or physically keep Twilligear or Crapser from walking away or returning to their room, nor did they otherwise assert authority over their movements.
When speaking with Twilligear, the deputies informed her why they were there. During the conversation, the deputies learned Twilligear used methamphetamine, but she denied she was cooking drugs or that there were any chemicals related to the manufacture of drugs in her room.
When speaking with Crapser, the deputies noticed he looked very nervous. The deputies told Crapser they were going to check his identification in their computer system. While waiting for the information to come back, Crapser unexpectedly pulled out a syringe from his pocket, stating, This is all I have on me. The syringe was capped and contained a clear liquid. The deputies suspected it was methamphetamine.
After confirming Crapser was not the individual wanted in the warrant, and after learning he had spent the previous night with Twilligear, the deputies asked him if he would consent to a search of his person. He responded affirmatively. The search revealed three or four more syringes and a small baggie containing what appeared to be methamphetamine. The deputies arrested Crapser for possession of a controlled substance and gave him his Miranda warnings.
The deputies told Crapser they suspected he and Twilligear were involved in the manufacture of methamphetamine in the room and asked for their consent to search the room. Evidently concerned about being held accountable for items in Crapser s bags, Twilligear yelled in Crapser s direction that he should own up to what he possessed in the room. At that time, Crapser told the deputies one of his bags contained a 9mm handgun and a shotgun.
Both individuals signed a consent-to-search form in response to the deputies requests to search the room. The search led the deputies to the weapons in a duffel bag previously described by Crapser.
Appeals Court Ruling