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United States v. Montes-Reyes – Case Brief Summary (Federal Court)

In United States v. Montes-Reyes, 547 F. Supp. 2d 281, 291 (S.D. N.Y. 2008), agents with a Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") task force had been surveilling the defendant, who was staying in a hotel room.

A DEA agent knocked on the defendant's hotel room door, intentionally misidentified himself as a New York City police officer, displayed an NYPD badge, and told the defendant he was searching for a missing girl. The DEA agent showed the defendant a flier from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children depicting a young girl and her would-be abductor, a middle-aged woman.

The DEA agent asked the defendant for permission to enter his hotel room to check for the missing girl. The defendant consented. Within a few seconds, four DEA agents and one investigator entered the hotel room as well.

Within a few minutes more, the DEA agent obtained the defendant's oral and written consent to search the room for guns. A search of a black bag revealed heroin. Upon being charged, the defendant moved to suppress that evidence.

After conducting a comprehensive review of the case law relating to consent searches resulting from police ruses, the district court granted the motion to suppress.

The court categorized as follows the cases in which consent to enter an abode was obtained by means of police deception:

"cases in which the person whose consent is sought is left with the impression that his consent cannot be lawfully withheld," id. at 287;

cases in which the police seek consent based on "certain dire or otherwise exigent circumstances," id. at 288;

cases in which undercover police officers misrepresent their identity and obtain consent to enter a home. Id.

In the first two categories, courts have deemed any consent given to be involuntary. In the third category, courts have required that undercover agents not exceed the objectively reasonable scope of the consent given.

The district court reasoned that the proposition underlying these cases is that deception does not necessarily vitiate the voluntariness of consent, but that the nature of the deception is highly relevant to a totality of the circumstances analysis of voluntariness. Id. at 290.

The district court concluded that the "missing girl" ruse fell into the second category of cases because it "created a false sense of exigent circumstances" and was so extreme as to render any consent given coerced and therefore involuntary. Id. at 291.