State v. Budd: WA Supreme Court Acknowledges Unlawful Search of Home.

In State v. Budd, the WA Supreme Court decided law enforcement officers must properly give Ferrier warnings before entering a residence.

Good decision. Last year, I discussed how the WA Court of Appeals decided this matter in my blog titled, State v. Budd: Ferrier Warnings Improperly Given. Fortunately, the WA Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeals’ decision.

Police arrived at his door on a “cybertip” that Mr. Budd was talking to underage girls through online chatting and that he possessed child pornography on his computer. Officers arrived at Budd’s home and performed a “knock & talk“, however, they lacked probable cause for a search warrant.  Also,  the detectives did not properly discuss Ferrier warnings with Mr. Holmes before he allowed them entry. They seized his computer, found child porn and charged him with Possession of Depictions of Minors Engaged in Sexually Explicit Conduct under RCW 9.68A.070. He was convicted.

Some background on Ferrier warnings is necessary in order to understand this “search & seizure of a home” case. In State v. Ferrier, the WA Supreme Court held that, before entering a citizen’s home without a warrant, a law enforcement officer must (1) ask the citizen for consent, (2) inform the citizen that he can revoke consent at any time and (3) notify the citizen that he can limit the scope of the entry into the home. If an officer fails to provide these Ferrier rights/warnings, then any evidence obtained from the search is “fruits of the poisonous search” and can be suppressed.

On appeal, Budd argued that the trial court wrongfully denied his motion to suppress evidence because the Ferrier warnings given by police were insufficient. The Court of Appeals agreed with Mr. Budd and suppressed the evidence. In response, the State took the issue up on appeal to the WA Supreme Court. In this new opinion, however, the WA Supremes ultimately decided the Court of Appeals correctly ruled that Budd’s consent was invalid.

The WA Supreme Court reasoned that since Ferrier, the Court has consistently limited the Ferrier warnings to knock and talk procedures. “In this case, the officers conducted a knock and talk because they sought Budd’s consent to enter his home to search for and seize suspected contraband. Therefore, the officers were required to give Budd the Ferrier warnings before entering his home.”

Furthermore, the Court discussed the similarities between Mr. Budd’s case at hand and the defendant in Ferrier:

“Indeed, the officers’ conduct in this case paralleled the conduct of the officers in Ferrier. In both cases, the officers arrived without announcement, surprising the resident. In both cases, the resident was not given time to reflect on the officers’ presence before being asked to give his or her consent for the officers to enter the home and search for evidence of a crime. In both cases, the resident reacted to the knock and talk procedure as expected by being polite and cooperative, and allowing the officers inside the residence.”

Finally, the WA Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s finding that the officers did not give Budd the Ferrier warnings before entering his home and hold that Budd’s consent was therefore involuntary. And with that ,the WA Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals and dismissed the charges against Mr. Budd.

Again, good decision. Although Mr. Budd’s actions leading up to his charges were certainly concerning, the WA Supremes got it right in deciding that our individual rights trump unlawful government searches of our homes. I’m glad they didn’t decide differently and chip away at the Ferrier decision. In Ferrier, the WA Supreme Court specifically highlighted the fact that when confronted with a surprise show of government force and authority, most residents believe they have no choice but to consent to the search. This is absolutely true. The Ferrier court also noted that it was not surprised by an officer’s testimony that virtually everyone confronted by a knock and talk accedes to the request to permit a search of their home.