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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of a Utah drug bust this week.
Arguments were held Tuesday about whether an informant working for the police is considered a government agent and, once invited into a home, can let in officers who don't have a warrant.
The case involves a 2002 drug arrest in Fillmore. The Central Utah Narcotics Task Force enlisted an informant who was already facing drug charges. The informant went to a home to buy meth. After the informant signaled the deal was done, the officers entered the house and arrested Afton Callahan.
Callahan's attorney, Theodore Metzler Jr., told the justices that officers should have known they were violating Callahan's Fourth Amendment rights, which provide protection against illegal searches and seizures.
Metzler argued that his client didn't consent to the officers' entry without a warrant.
Attorneys for Cordell Pearson, who heads the Central Utah drug task force, defended the officers' actions.
Salt Lake City attorney Peter Stirba told the court that police sent the informant into the home for the drug deal but didn't have probable cause to get a warrant.
"That is the most astonishing view of probable cause I have heard in this courtroom," said Justice David Souter.
Souter and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer questioned why the officers didn't approach a judge for a warrant when they had information that drugs were in the home.
Breyer also questioned the logic about why, when someone in a home unwittingly invites in an undercover officer, he is "suddenly consenting" to entry by police.
"I would think that's the last thing he would want," Breyer said.
The case could help resolve a split among federal circuit courts about whether informants should be treated the same as undercover officers when it comes to waiving Fourth Amendment protections.
One circuit court has ruled that officers could enter a home after an informant's signal. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Utah, had not taken up the issue at the time of the 2002 drug bust.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)