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United States v. King

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 29, 2015


Charles J. Porter, Jr., Esquire


David Stewart Cercone United States District Judge

AND NOW, 29th this day of May, 2015, upon due consideration of defendant's motion for reconsideration and the parties' submissions in conjunction therewith, IT IS ORDERED that [66] the motion be, and the same hereby is, granted in part and denied in part. The motion is granted to the extent defendant seeks to raise a challenge to the search of December 20, 2012, based on his wife's registered ownership of the Ford Expedition; and

IT FURTHER IS ORDERED that upon due consideration of the supplemental challenge to the search, defendant's supplemental motion to suppress be, and the same hereby is, denied for want of standing and otherwise denied for failing to establish that the search was undertaken in violation of defendant's Fourth Amendment rights.

Defendant's contention that his wife's registered ownership of the vehicle rendered the discovery of the guns and contraband unconstitutional is misplaced. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens against “unreasonable searches and seizures” of their “persons, houses, papers, and effects.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. Fourth Amendment rights are personal rights, and "may be enforced by exclusion of evidence only at the instance of one whose own protection was infringed by the search and seizure." Simmons v. United States, 390 U.S. 377, 389 (1968).

Protection under the Fourth Amendment is available only if the governmental intrusion extends to an area in which the person challenging it has a “constitutionally protected reasonable expectation of privacy.” New York v. Class, 475 U.S. 106, 112 (1986) (quoting Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 360 (1967) (Harlan, J., concurring)). In other words, the person challenging the governmental action must have standing. Alderman v. United States, 394 U.S. 165, 174 (1968). Standing exists if the defendant can establish that he had "a legitimate expectation of privacy in the invaded place." United States v. Cortez-Dutrieville 743 F.3d 881, 883 (3d Cir. 2014).

The burden of establishing standing rests with the defendant. United States v. Salvucci, 448 U.S. 83, 86-95 (1980); Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 130 n.1 (1978). To meet this burden the defendant must establish a reasonable and actual expectation of privacy in the areas searched and/or the items seized. Rawlings v. Kentucky, 448 U.S. 98, 104-106 (1980); United States v. Baker, 221 F.3d 438, 441 (3d Cir. 2000).

Determining whether a legitimate expectation of privacy has been shown involves two specific inquiries: “(1) whether the individual demonstrated an actual or subjective expectation of privacy in the subject of the search or seizure; and (2) whether this expectation of privacy is objectively justifiable under the circumstances.” United States v. Donahue, 764 F.3d 293, 298-99 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Free Speech Coal., Inc. v. Att'y Gen., 677 F.3d 519, 543 (3d Cir. 2012)). To show a subjective expectation of privacy, the defendant must demonstrate that he “took normal precautions to maintain his privacy.” Rawlings, 448 U.S. at 105. An objective expectation of privacy exists only when supported by “a source outside of the Fourth Amendment, either by reference to concepts of real or personal property law or to understandings that are recognized and permitted by society.” Minnesota v. Carter, 525 U.S. 83, 88 (1998) (quoting Rakas, 439 U.S. 128 at 140).

Rakas and its progeny have made clear that more than temporary occupancy or possession of a vehicle is needed to maintain standing. The courts of appeal consistently have followed its principles. See United States v. Martinez, 983 F.2d 968, 972-73 (10th Cir. 1992) (non-owner driver of vehicle who asserted standing based upon mere immediate possession of it and keys failed to produce evidence sufficient to establish a reasonable expectation of privacy in its trunk); United States v. Jefferson, 925 F.2d 1242, 1249 (10th Cir.) (“mere control [of a vehicle] is not sufficient to establish a protectable Fourth Amendment privacy right”), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 884 (1991); United States v. Roberson, 6 F.3d 1088, 1091 (5th Cir. 1993) (“typically, a passenger without a possessory interest in an automobile lacks standing to complain about its search because his privacy expectation is not infringed.”); United States v. Sanchez, 943 F.2d 110, 114 (1st Cir. 1991) (individual who had only “casual” and temporary possession of vehicle “lacked a sufficient expectation of privacy in the car to entitle him to challenge its seizure and search.”). Other courts have reached the same conclusion. See United States v. Vaugns, 202 F.Supp.2d 572, 576 (E.D. Tex. 2002) (passenger and unauthorized driver of rental vehicle lacked standing to challenge a search due to their lack of property or possessory interest in automobile); Varner v. United States, 685 A.2d 396, 398 (D.C. Ct. App. 1996) (mere presence in and temporary command over a vehicle are insufficient to create a legitimate expectation of privacy).

On reconsideration, defendant now affirmatively contends that the vehicle belonged not to him, but to his wife, and that there was no evidence that he had possession and control of it at any time during the four months prior to the search. To the extent defendant asserts that he did not have a possessory or privacy interest in the vehicle, he effectively has eviscerated his ability to challenge the warrantless search of it. Rawlings, 448 U.S. at 106. And to the extent that he seeks to exclude the use of the seized contraband based on his wife's ownership, he lacks standing to do so. United States v Genser, 582 F.2d 292, 305 n.24 (3d Cir. 1978) (the “established principle is that suppression of the product of a Fourth Amendment violation can be successfully urged only by those whose rights were violated by the search itself, not by those who are aggrieved solely by the introduction of damaging evidence.”) (quoting Alderman, 394 U.S. at 171-72).

Assuming for the purposes of argument that defendant does have standing to challenge the search, the officers had reasonable suspicion to justify a search of the vehicle. Defendant argues that items found during the search of the vehicle could reasonably have belonged to his wife. But this additional fact did not strip the officers of the constitutional grounds they had to seize the contraband.

Generally, the Fourth Amendment requires that officers have both probable cause and a warrant to conduct a search. In the case of parolees, however, the threshold level is reduced to reasonable suspicion and a warrant is not required. United States v. Baker, 221 F.3d 438, 443 (3d Cir. 2000). The special needs of the probation/parole system justify this lower standard. Griffin v. Wis., 483 U.S. 868, 873-874 (1987); Cf. United States v. Hill, 967 F.2d 902, 909 (3d Cir. 1992) ("A probable cause requirement would divert the officer's attention from his client's individual characteristics and needs, and would interfere with appropriate supervision.") Thus, it is now well-settled that officers may conduct searches of a parolee or probationer's vehicle or home based solely on reasonable suspicion. United States v. Knights, 534 U.S. 112, 121 (U.S. 2001) ("When an officer has reasonable suspicion that a probationer subject to a search condition is engaged in criminal activity, there is enough likelihood that criminal conduct is occurring that an intrusion on the probationer's significantly diminished privacy interests is reasonable.")

Ascertaining whether an officer has reasonable suspicion to conduct a search often involves an imprecise judgment. United States v. Robertson, 305 F.3d 529, 532 (3d Cir. 1998). The term is a common sense, non-technical conception that deals with “the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act.” Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 695 (1996) (quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983)). As such, the standard is “not readily or even usefully reduced to a neat set of legal rules.” Id.

As a general matter reasonable suspicion is present whenever an officer has “a particularized and objective basis” for suspecting an individual has been or is about to engage in criminal activity. Id. (quoting United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417-18 (1981)). More specifically, a limited investigative search may be conducted when an officer has "specific articulable facts which, taken together with ...

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