Aaron Charles Martin was convicted after a stipulated bench trial of carrying a firearm without a license. Prior to the bench trial, he had filed a Motion to Suppress the seized firearm based on the fact that it was only seized after police made an unconstitutional entry into his hotel room. That Motion was denied by the trial court.
On appeal to the Superior Court, Martin renewed his argument that the seizure was made only after a police officer entered the hotel room.
Police had been summoned to the Holiday Inn for a reported odor of marijuana smoke. Hotel staff directed them to Martin’s room. When they reached the room, Officer Moss immediately detected the odor of marijuana smoke emanating from the room. Officer Moss, who was in uniform, knocked on the door. He did not announce his identity as a police officer, but he took no other efforts to conceal himself.
A woman opened the door, allowing Officer Moss to peer inside, which is when he observed Martin reaching over a chair. He ultimately made additional observations that led him to perform a pat-down of Martin which led to the seizure of the firearm at issue.
The trial court’s rendition of the facts focused on Officer Moss’s testimony during his direct examination regarding where he was when he made his observations. However, the Superior Court made no small effort to illuminate how the cross examination of the Officer skillfully exposed the additional – and salient – fact that Officer Moss had crossed the threshold of the door before making his observation.
“Immediately prior to his admission to having at least partially entered the room, the officer was describing his body position to the court, indicating that his body was oriented at an angle to the doorway at the moment he made the initial observation. It was at that point when Officer Moss answered defense counsel’s question, acknowledging that half of his body was inside the room.”
Distilling the issue, the Superior wrote that “[t]he space protected by the Fourth Amendment ends at the threshold of the door, not at some undetermined point inside the dwelling where the person who answers the door is located.”
Accordingly, the appellate Court concluded that the record established that Officer Moss had ‘entered’ the room by crossing the threshold of the door with half of his body when he observed Martin’s furtive movements. “This entry occurred without Officer Moss’s having first obtained a warrant, and without the consent of either [Martin] or the woman who had answered the door. As such, the officer did not make the observation that gave rise to a concern for his safety from a lawful vantage point.