Burt Rose Third Circuit Case Digests

posted October 3, 2014

On October 1, 2014, the UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT en banc has decided the case of UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellant v. HARRY KATZIN, MICHAEL KATZIN and MARK LOUIS KATZIN, SR., Appellees, No. 12-2548, an appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Criminal No. 5:11-cr-00226) before District Judge Gene E.K. Pratter. The judges were McKEE, Chief Judge, RENDELL, AMBRO, FUENTES, SMITH, FISHER, CHAGARES, JORDAN, HARDIMAN, GREENAWAY, JR., VANASKIE, SHWARTZ, and VAN ANTWERPEN, Circuit Judges. Judge Van Antwerpen wrote the Opinion. Judge SMITH dissented, joined by judges McKEE, AMBRO, FUENTES, and GREENAWAY, JR. Robert A. Zauzmer, Esq. argued for the Government while Catherine N. Crump, Esq. argued for the Appellees.

This appeal arose out of the 2011 warrantless installation of a Global Positioning System device and subsequent surveillance by agents working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation of a van while investigating multiple pharmacy burglaries. The warrantless surveillance led to evidence of the involvement of brothers Harry, Michael, and Mark Katzin in the burglaries. In 2012, more than a year after the GPS installation and surveillance, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012), which held that the installation of a GPS device by government agents upon the exterior of a vehicle and subsequent use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements is a Fourth Amendment search. As a result, the Appellees successfully moved prior to trial to suppress the evidence collected pursuant to the warrantless GPS surveillance, effectively ending the Government’s prosecution.

The singular issue in this case was whether the evidence recovered from Harry Katzin’s van should be shielded from suppression pursuant to the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule. In determining whether the good faith exception applies, the Court was required to answer the “objectively ascertainable question whether a reasonably well trained officer would have known that the search was illegal in light of all of the circumstances” under United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984). Here, the evidence should not have been suppressed because the agents acted with a good faith belief in the lawfulness of their conduct that was “objectively reasonable.” It would have been objectively reasonable for a law enforcement officer to conclude, prior to Jones and in reliance on United States v. Karo, 468 U.S. 705 (1984), that such conduct was not, at that time, a search because it infringed no privacy interest.

Therefore, the Court en banc concluded that the evidence was admissible under the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule and reversed the District Court’s grant of Appellees’ suppression motions.