(CN) - Cops who allegedly saw a man standing on his porch with a firearm had no cause to surround the Los Angeles home and order him outside at gunpoint, the 9th Circuit ruled Thursday.
Two police officers on patrol in South Central Los Angeles approached Johnny Nora and two other men one night in 2008. Nora and his friends were standing on his porch behind a metal fence, and the officers stopped on the sidewalk and talked to them over the fence.
The officers alleged that Nora was acting nervous, and that he revealed a blue-steel semiautomatic handgun when he turned abruptly and went into his house. Seeing the firearm, the officers shouted for Nora to stop, but he ignored them and went into his house and turned off the lights.
The officers called for backup, drawing more than 20 officers to the scene to surround the house. They also called in a police helicopter, which blasted the house with light from above.
Using a public-address system, the officers ordered Nora and another out of the home. The suspects emerged about 30 minutes later, followed by Nora's wife and children.
Police arrested Nora and found money and marijuana on him, and he allegedly admitted to being a gang-member and a drug dealer. A criminal-background check revealed that Nora had prior convictions for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
After securing a search warrant, police searched Nora's home and found additional firearms, plus marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin. He was later indicted for possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offense, possession of an unregistered firearm, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He pleaded conditionally guilty to the drug charges while also moving to suppress the evidence from the search.
Now serving 10 years in prison, Nora claimed in a motion to suppress that the search warrant was invalid because it was based on an illegal arrest.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson in Los Angeles disagreed and refused to suppress the drugs found in Nora's home and his post-arrest statements.
A unanimous appellate panel reversed on Thursday, however, because it deemed the warrant too broad. There was also no emergency or immediate danger to allow police to surround Nora's home and order him out at gunpoint, the panel found.
While officers had probable cause to search Nora's home for the blue-steel semiautomatic pistol that they had allegedly seen him carrying, the warrant "purported to authorize the seizure of firearms of any stripe, expanding the scope of the search to include firearms for which the officers did not have probable cause," the ruling states.
Nora's post-arrest statements were invalid as well because Nora did not have a chance to "collect himself," the panel said.
"When the police unreasonably intrude upon that interest by ordering a suspect to exit his home at gunpoint, the suspect's opportunity to collect himself before venturing out in public is certainly diminished, if not eliminated altogether," Judge William Fletcher wrote for the court.
"Evidence obtained as a result of Nora's unlawful arrest must be suppressed, which renders the portions of the warrant authorizing a search for narcotics-related evidence and evidence of gang membership invalid," Fletcher added.
The panel reversed denial of Nora's motion to suppress and remanded the case to Los Angeles.