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United States v. Mundy

September 14, 2010


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Criminal No. 06-cr-00540-1) District Judge: Honorable J. Curtis Joyner.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chagares, Circuit Judge


Argued January 8, 2009

Before: CHAGARES, HARDIMAN, CircuitJudges, and ELLIS*fn1, District Judge.


Eric Wayne Mundy appeals his conviction and sentence for possession of 500 grams or more of cocaine with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B), and for possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine in a protected area, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 860(a). Mundy contends that the District Court erroneously admitted evidence that was seized during an inventory search of his car, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. He also challenges the District Court's application of a United States Sentencing Guidelines ("U.S.S.G.") enhancement for possession of a controlled substance in a protected location with intent to distribute. We will affirm.


On August 3, 2004, Mundy was stopped by two Philadelphia Highway Patrol officers, James Chabot and George Soto, for making a right turn without using a turn signal and for excessively dark window tinting, in apparent violation of the motor vehicle code. The officers stopped Mundy at 18th Street and Hunting Park Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, less than 1,000 feet from Gratz High School. The officers approached the vehicle and directed Mundy to lower the driver's side window. Mundy was unable to do so, and the officers instructed him to open his door instead, which he did. Officer Chabot asked Mundy for his license, insurance card, and registration. After several minutes of searching, he was unable to locate documentation for the vehicle. The officers then took steps to determine whether the vehicle was registered. First, the officers ran a check on the vehicle's public Vehicle Identification Number, and a check of the license plate number, neither of which produced a record of an owner. The officers then contacted the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (the "BMV"). The BMV reported no registration information for Mundy's vehicle. The officers directed Mundy to exit his vehicle, and they placed him in their patrol car before radioing for a tow truck.

Officer Chabot began to search the interior of the vehicle and, using a key Mundy provided, opened the locked trunk. The only items in the trunk were a tool kit and a gray plastic bag containing a closed shoebox. Officer Chabot removed the shoebox from the plastic bag and proceeded to open it. Inside, he found a brown paper lunch bag and two clear plastic zip-locked bags filled with a substance that appeared to be cocaine. Officer Chabot opened the paper lunch bag and found four more clear plastic zip-locked bags, also containing a substance that appeared to be cocaine. Officer Chabot replaced the items, closed the trunk of the vehicle, placed Mundy under arrest, and recovered $1,107 in cash from his person. The officers then notified narcotics agents. They did not complete a Towing Report listing the items found during the search.

Officer Trappler of the Narcotics Field Unit was assigned to the investigation. He obtained and executed a search and seizure warrant for Mundy's vehicle and recovered from the trunk, among other things, six clear plastic bags containing a substance suspected to be cocaine. Officer Trappler also recovered from the interior of the vehicle two plastic jars, a small amount of marijuana, and documents. The Philadelphia Chemical Laboratory tested the substance found in the clear plastic bags and confirmed that the substance was cocaine. The cocaine weighed 746.9 grams.

Mundy was charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B), and one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school zone, 21 U.S.C. § 860(a). Mundy moved to suppress the evidence found during the search, arguing that both the stop and the ensuing search violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment.*fn2 At the hearing on the motion to suppress, Officer Chabot testified that he found the cocaine during a routine inventory search of Mundy's car. Philadelphia police policy provides that before a vehicle is towed, its contents must be inventoried in order to protect the police from claims of missing property and damage. Mundy argued, in relevant part, that the officers did not have probable cause to search the vehicle, and that the inventory search policy did not sufficiently regulate the officers' discretion with respect to closed containers found in the vehicle. The District Court denied the motion to suppress, concluding that the search was conducted pursuant to a valid inventory search in accordance with departmental policy.

Mundy's case was tried to a jury beginning on July 17, 2007 and, on July 19, 2007, the jury returned guilty verdicts against Mundy on both counts. On October 9, 2007, the District Court sentenced Mundy on Count Two, the § 860(a) violation,*fn3 to seventy-eight months in prison, eight years of supervised release, a fine of $10,000, and a special assessment. Mundy filed a timely notice of appeal.*fn4


Mundy contends that the District Court erred in admitting into evidence the cocaine seized during a warrantless inventory search of his car. In reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress alleging violations of the Fourth Amendment, we review factual findings for clear error and exercise plenary review over the District Court's legal conclusions. United States v. Williams, 417 F.3d 373, 376 (3d Cir. 2005). "Because the basis for denial of the motion was a determination that the search that produced the evidence was valid, we must review the propriety of the warrantless search that led to the discovery of incriminating evidence." Id.


The Supreme Court has recognized that "[t]he touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness." Florida v. Jimeno, 500 U.S. 248, 250 (1991). Warrantless searches and seizures are presumptively unreasonable and are therefore prohibited under the Fourth Amendment, unless an exception applies. California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. 565, 580 (1991) ("It remains a cardinal principle that searches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment -- subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions." (quotation marks omitted)); see also Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967). "Such exceptions are based on the Supreme Court's determination that a particular search is reasonable, that is, that the government's legitimate interests in the search outweigh the individual's legitimate expectation of privacy in the object of the search." United States v. Salmon, 944 F.2d 1106, 1120 (3d Cir. 1991).

The Supreme Court has determined that one exception to the warrant requirement is for inventory searches of lawfully seized automobiles. Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U.S. 367, 371 (1987); Illinois v. Lafayette, 462 U.S. 640, 643 (1983) ("[T]he inventory search constitutes a well-defined exception to the warrant requirement."); South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364, 372 (1976) ("[I]nventories pursuant to standard police procedures are reasonable."). Inventory procedures serve three "strong governmental interests": "[1] to protect an owner's property while it is in the custody of ...

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