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United States v. Snoddy

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

January 17, 2019


          Travis R. McDonough District Judge.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Suppress [Doc. 19]. For reasons that follow, the motion is DENIED.

         By way 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.

         I. Facts

         Tennessee 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 there.

         Trooper 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.

         After 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.

         Eventually, 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.

         Based 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).

         Defendant 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."

         Defendant 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.

         II. Discussion

         A. Legality ...

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