Court Decision: Court of Appeals Reverses Murder Conviction Due to Warrantless Entry of Home

Court of Appeals: People v. Cuencas

Court of Appeals Reverses Murder Conviction Due to Warrantless Entry of Home

In the course of investigating the abduction and murder of a drug dealer, an eyewitness identified Mr. Cuencas and his brother from photo arrays. The police did not seek a warrant to arrest the brothers; instead, a warrant team arrived before dawn at a two-family Brooklyn house, where the brothers were living on the ground floor, for the purpose of making a warrantless arrest. According to the officers, when they knocked, a man who lived on the second floor opened the door, did not speak, and “opened the door a little bit wider” when asked for permission to enter. Mr. Cuencas and his brother were arrested in their apartment.

The second-floor resident appeared as a defense witness at the suppression hearing and stated that as soon as he opened the door, the officers ordered him to raise his hands and pushed past him with guns drawn. He said they did not ask for permission to enter and he gave no permission.

The suppression court found the police testimony more credible than the resident’s and ruled that the resident gave the police “tacit consent” to enter and that he had apparent authority to do so.

The Court of Appeals reversed the murder conviction, holding the warrantless entry was not based on consent because the hearing testimony did not establish permission to enter. Significantly, the police never sought consent to enter Mr. Cuenca’s apartment – only to enter the common vestibule to speak to the person who answered the exterior door. The belief by the officers that the resident had apparent authority to consent was not reasonable and the warrantless entry into the apartment violated Mr. Cuenca’s constitutional rights.

Yvonne Shivers represented Mr. Cuencas