A Utah police search case could be used to help shape the law of the land on when police can, or cannot, search a person's home.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hear the case of a Utah man who claims drug agents sent a confidential informant into his home for a drug buy and then entered his home to search it without a warrant.
The outcome will also determine whether Afton Callahan can sue the state for violating his Constitutional rights or if the law protects the agents under governmental immunity.
According to court documents, members of the Central Utah Narcotics Task Force were contacted in March 2002 by a confidential informant who said he had set up a drug buy with Callahan in his trailer home. Agents met up with the informant to put a wire on him so they could listen in on the deal. Agents found the informant had been drinking and had ingested methamphetamine but "plied him" with coffee and sent him in anyway.
The informant met with Callahan and when the deal was done, gave agents the verbal signal to move in. Agents rushed into the home and arrested the informant and two men. Drugs were found on the informant but none on the other two men. Baggies of what appeared to be methamphetamine were found on the floor of the trailer's enclosed porch. After the arrests, Callahan consented to have his home searched.
However later during the criminal case, Callahan moved to have the evidence suppressed, saying the search was unconstitutional. After the district court ruled that agents were protected under governmental immunity, Callahan appealed and the Utah Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, saying police should have obtained a search warrant.
Callahan then filed a federal suit against Millard County and drug agents, claiming they violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.
A federal judge in Utah threw out the civil suit, saying officers did qualify for governmental immunity and added that officers also did not violate a "clearly established right." In July of last year, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overturned that decision and found the officers were not protected by governmental immunity because they had no warrant, Callahan did not initially consent to their entry and Callahan's consent of entry to their informant did not extend to agents.
Attorney for Millard County, Peter Stirba, said although the 10th Circuit has ruled the search illegal, other courts have allowed prosecutions to move forward under similar circumstances.The 10th Circuit judges did acknowledge that the law in such situations has not been clearly established. Stirba said that is one of the reasons that the highest court in the country has agreed to hear the case.