Most police officers know that when an arrest warrant has been issued, they can enter the home of the person named in the warrant, without a search warrant, to make an arrest. But can they make a warrantless entry into the home of a person not named in the arrest warrant?
Recently, the Court of Appeals for Cuyahoga County, Ohio, addressed that issue. In State v. Tolbert (1997), officers from the Cleveland Police department had a capias (bench warrant) for the defendant's arrest on a probation violation. After receiving a tip that the defendant was in his girlfriend's apartment, officers went to that apartment and arrested the defendant. The court ruled that the warrantless entry into the home was proper because the police officers had a valid arrest warrant and reason to believe that the defendant was in the apartment. Quoting the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Ohio court stated:
"A person has no greater right of privacy in another's home than in his own. If an arrest warrant and reason to believe the person named in the warrant is present are sufficient to protect that person's Fourth Amendment privacy rights in his own home, they necessarily suffice to protect his privacy rights in the home of another." United States v. Underwood (1983).
Under the Tolbert rule, police officers with an arrest warrant may be able to enter a third party's home, without a search warrant, in order to make the arrest, but this rule will be applied only under limited circumstances. Officers cannot enter a third party's home on a chance that the person named in the warrant will be present. The officer must have a valid reason to believe that the named offender will be present in the home. "Reason to believe" could be a statement from a neighbor who knows that the offender has been staying at the home. An officer's observations of the offender entering the third party's home would also justify the entry without a search warrant.
The Tolbert rule gives police officers a powerful tool in administering justice. An officer will no longer need to go through the time-consuming efforts of securing the house to request a search warrant from the prosecutor and judge. However, officers should also understand that this ruling is controversial. Neither the United States Supreme Court, nor the Ohio Supreme Court, has made a clear ruling on this issue. And other Ohio Courts of Appeals still require officers to obtain a search warrant before they make an arrest inside the home of a person not named in the arrest warrant. Still, the Tolbert case does provide a good legal argument to justify a warrantless entry into a third party's home when officers have a valid reason to believe that the named offender will be found inside.