United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga
R. McDonough District Judge.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
CHRISTOPHER H. STEGER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to
Suppress [Doc. 19]. For reasons that follow, the motion is
of summary, Defendant relies upon the Fourth Amendment's
prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure. In this
case, the police conducted a warrantless search of a vehicle
operated by Defendant and impounded the vehicle after
arresting him on out-of-state warrants following a traffic
stop. Although the police must generally obtain a search
warrant before conducting a search, there are exceptions to
this general rule which permit law enforcement to conduct a
warrantless search. Here, the police relied upon the
“inventory-search” exception to conduct a search
of Defendant's vehicle. The undersigned finds that they
were justified in relying upon that exception to perform a
warrantless search of the vehicle.
Highway Patrol Trooper Adam Malone was patrolling Franklin
County, Tennessee shortly after midnight on November 9, 2017.
His radar alerted him to Defendant's vehicle which was
speeding on Highway 64. Trooper Malone turned on his blue
lights and followed Defendant's vehicle. Defendant pulled
his vehicle onto the shoulder of the road and stopped.
Trooper Malone approached Defendant's driver-side window.
Defendant asked him for directions to Manchester, Tennessee,
and indicated that he was going to visit his girlfriend
Malone obtained Defendant's license, registration, and
proof of insurance, and returned to his patrol car to check
Defendant's information When Trooper Malone ran
Defendant's information on his computer, he discovered
that the vehicle Defendant was driving did not belong to him.
Trooper Malone also communicated by radio with a dispatch
officer who alerted him that several arrest warrants were
pending against Defendant in Georgia for offenses which
included possession of methamphetamine, sexual assault, and
failure to register as a sex offender. The dispatch officer
also confirmed that Defendant was subject to extradition for
the pending Georgia charges. Consequently, Trooper Malone
requested back-up and waited in his patrol car for another
police officer to arrive.
the back-up police officer arrived, the two officers
approached Defendant's vehicle, directed him to get out,
and placed him under arrest. After Defendant was handcuffed,
Trooper Malone walked him to the rear of Defendant's
vehicle and asked him several times for consent to search the
car. Defendant did not give Trooper Malone consent to search
the vehicle. Trooper Malone advised Defendant that, if he
failed to provide consent to search the vehicle, he would
simply perform an inventory search before towing the vehicle.
He stated that he did not think that Defendant was being
honest. Defendant advised Trooper Malone that the vehicle did
not belong to him; rather, it belonged to his girlfriend.
Trooper Malone replied that, since Defendant was in
possession of the vehicle, he could provide consent to
search. Still, Defendant refused to provide consent.
Trooper Malone called a wrecker to tow the vehicle and
performed an inventory search of the vehicle. During the
inventory search, Trooper Malone found methamphetamine and a
gun in the trunk of the car, methamphetamine inside a coat in
the passenger compartment, and a second gun in the glovebox.
on the evidence discovered during the inventory search, the
Government charged Defendant with possession of
methamphetamine with intent to distribute under 21 U.S.C.
§ 841(b)(1)(B), possession of a firearm in furtherance
of a drug-trafficking crime under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c),
and possession of a firearm and ammunition as a convicted
felon under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).
requests that the Court suppress the evidence discovered in
the vehicle. In support of his motion, Defendant argues that
Trooper Malone's inventory search was pretextual and that
it was, in fact, an illegal investigatory search. The
Government responds that the Fourth Amendment protects
Trooper Malone's discretion to impound the vehicle and
perform an inventory search. At the suppression hearing,
Trooper Malone confirmed that the Tennessee Highway Patrol
conducts impoundment and inventory searches under
“General Order 513- Vehicle Inventory and
Searches," which specifies that troopers "shall,
upon custodial arrest, conduct an inventory of the arrested
person's vehicle before towing."
asserts in his brief that he advised Trooper Malone that he
could contact his girlfriend in Manchester and she could come
to the scene and pick up the vehicle, which would have
avoided the necessity of having the vehicle towed. There is,
however, no evidence in the record to support that assertion.
Defendant did not testify to these facts. The dash-camera
recording did not memorialize such a conversation. Trooper
Malone did not confirm that Defendant made such an offer.
There is nothing before the Court to suggest that having
Defendant's girlfriend come to the scene to pick up the
vehicle was a viable option.