United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Presley Brown is charged with one count of possessing a
firearm as a felon. He was arrested on a warrant when
officers spotted him riding as a passenger in his
girlfriend's car. A search of the car revealed a firearm
below his seat and led to the seizure of his cell phone.
Officers later obtained a search warrant for the phone, which
contained videos of Mr. Brown possessing firearms. After Mr.
Brown's girlfriend signed a consent to a search of her
house, officers also conducted a search there, where they
found additional firearms that Mr. Brown is alleged to have
possessed. Mr. Brown has now moved to suppress all of that
evidence, arguing that the warrantless searches of the car
and his girlfriend's house were unlawful, and that the
warrant for the search of his phone was invalid. For the
following reasons, the Court denies the motion as to the
searches of the car and the phone, but grants the motion as
to the search of the house.
November 9, 2016, Presley Brown had an active warrant for his
arrest, and he was a person of interest in a recent homicide.
Homicide detectives wanted to speak with him, so officers on
the South Bend Police Department's Strategic Focus Unit
began searching for him to arrest him on the warrant. In
preparing to look for Mr. Brown, the officers confirmed that
he was a convicted felon, and they also found pictures on a
social media site showing him with firearms. The officers
found Mr. Brown just after 5:00 p.m., as he was riding as a
passenger in a car driven by his girlfriend, Dominique
Brown. The officers initiated a traffic stop to
arrest Mr. Brown on the warrant. The car pulled over,
officers approached on both sides of the car, and they
immediately ordered Mr. Brown out of the car. He complied,
though he tossed his cell phone back into the car just before
the officers began frisking him. While that was going on, the
officer on the driver's side asked Dominique for her
identification, and then directed her to step out of the car.
She complied as well, and the officer informed her that the
reason she was pulled over was that they had a warrant for
Mr. Brown's arrest. After searching Mr. Brown and
securing him in handcuffs, an officer led him back towards
the police cars. Another officer radioed in Dominique's
identification to confirm her driving status, and after a
brief delay, learned that Dominique had a learner's
permit, meaning she could not drive on her own.
officer then asked Dominique if there was anything in the car
they should know about. Though her response is not audible in
the recording, the Court finds that she told the officers
that there was a gun in the car, as explained in more detail
below. The officers asked where in the car, and thanked her
for her honesty. One of the officers then explained that they
were going to photograph everything, and also told Dominique
that they needed to take a statement from her. She asked to
retrieve her cell phone, but the officer told her the
officers were going to go into the car first, and that he
couldn't allow her to make phone calls at that point.
Dominique was then led to and placed in the back seat of one
of the officers' cars. Several minutes later Dominique
signed a written form consenting to a search of her car, and
officers seized the firearm and the cell phone from the car.
was then driven to the police station, where she was placed
in an interrogation room after a detective took her purse and
cell phone from her. Two detectives spoke to her for about
forty-five minutes before they drove her to pick her mother
up from work, after which they drove straight back to the
station and placed her in the same interrogation room. At
that point, Dominique confirmed that a picture showing Mr.
Brown with a firearm was taken in her house. Accordingly, the
detective told her that they wanted to search the house, and
Dominique signed a written consent form consenting to the
search. Dominique was then brought back to her house, where a
number of officers conducted the search. They found a variety
of evidence, including an AK-47 rifle, a pistol, and
ammunition. That same evening, a state prosecutor applied for
a search warrant for the cell phone recovered from the car,
based on information provided to him by the officers. The
warrant was issued, and a search of the phone revealed videos
of Mr. Brown posing with several guns.
Brown moves to suppress all of the evidence recovered through
the searches of the car, the cell phone, and the house. The
Court considers the legality of each search in
Search of the Car
Brown first argues that the search of the car was unlawful,
and that the firearm and cell phone should be suppressed as
the fruits of that search. The parties dispute a number of
issues relative to the search of the car. The government
argues that Mr. Brown was a mere passenger in the car, and
thus lacks standing to object to a search. Mr. Brown
disagrees, and further argues that Dominique's consent to
a search of the car was not effective because it was not
voluntary and occurred after the search had already begun.
The Court need not resolve any of those disputes, though, as
the officers plainly had probable cause to search the car, so
the motion can be denied on that basis alone.
warrantless search is per se unreasonable under the Fourth
Amendment unless one of a few well-established exceptions
applies. Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 129 (2009);
United States v. Zahursky, 580 F.3d 515, 521 (7th
Cir. 2009). “One such exception to the warrant
requirement is the automobile exception, which allows law
enforcement to conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle if
there is probable cause to believe the vehicle contains
contraband or evidence of a crime.” United States
v. Williams, 627 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 2010). Probable
cause to search exists where, based on the known facts and
circumstances, a reasonably prudent person would believe that
contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in the place
to be searched. United States v. Edwards, 769 F.3d
509, 514 (7th Cir. 2014).
the officers had probable cause to believe that Mr. Brown was
committing the crime of possessing a firearm as a felon, and
that the car contained evidence of that crime: a firearm.
First, prior to arresting Mr. Brown, the officers had
reviewed his criminal history and confirmed that he was a
convicted felon. They also conducted research on the internet
and found pictures posted on a social media site showing Mr.
Brown with firearms, which gave them cause for concern that
he might be armed. In addition, after the officers arrested
Mr. Brown, they spoke to Dominique, who told them that Mr.
Brown had a firearm under his seat. Though Dominique
testified that she did not recall offering that information,
Officer Graber testified that she told him that Mr. Brown had
a gun under his seat, and the video corroborates that
testimony. One of the officers can be heard explaining to
Dominique that he had dealt with Mr. Brown in the past, and
he asks Dominique if there is anything in the vehicle that
she needs to tell the officers about. Dominique's
response was not captured by the audio recording, but the
officers immediately respond by asking, “In the car?
Where at in the car?” Again, Dominique's response
is inaudible, but the officer responds by saying,
“That's fine, I appreciate your honesty, ”
and he then tells her that the officers were going to go in
the vehicle and photograph everything. This exchange is
consistent with and corroborates the testimony that Dominique
told the officers that Mr. Brown had a firearm under his
seat. Thus, given that statement by Dominique, there is no
question that the officers had probable cause to search the
car for evidence that Mr. Brown unlawfully possessed a
resisting that conclusion, Mr. Brown argues that Dominique
was unlawfully detained at the time she made that statement,
and that officers thus cannot rely on her statement in
support of probable cause to search the car. This argument
fails for two reasons, though: Mr. Brown does not have
standing to object to an unlawful detention of
Dominique in this context, and Dominique was not unlawfully
detained at that point, either. First, in arguing that
officers could not rely on Dominique's statement in
support of probable cause, Mr. Brown is essentially arguing
that her statement and the resulting probable cause were the
fruit of the poisonous tree of her unlawful detention.
However, “Fourth Amendment rights are personal rights
that may not be asserted vicariously.” Rakas v.
Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 134 (1978). Dominique's
detention, whether lawful or not, did not implicate any of
Mr. Brown's personal rights under the Fourth Amendment.
Accordingly, he cannot object that the probable cause to
search the car was lacking because it was procured through a
violation of someone else's rights. See United States
v. Washburn, 383 F.3d 638, 643 (7th Cir. 2004) (holding
that a defendant could not object that the probable cause for
a search was procured through a prior unlawful search of
someone else's vehicle); see also United States v.
Davis, 750 F.3d 1186, 1190-91 (10th Cir. 2014) (holding
that, even if a defendant had standing to argue that he was
illegally seized during a traffic stop, he could not object
that the probable cause for that stop was procured through a
prior unlawful search for which he lacked standing to
Dominique was not unlawfully detained at the time she told
the officers about the firearm in the car. Mr. Brown argues
that because the only reason for the stop of the car was to
arrest him pursuant to a warrant, officers were obligated to
send Dominique on her way the moment he was removed from the
car. The Court disagrees. As Mr. Brown notes, “a
seizure that is lawful at its inception can violate the
Fourth Amendment if its manner of execution unreasonably
infringes interests protected by the Constitution.”
United States v. Muriel, 418 F.3d 720, 725 (7th Cir.
2005). Thus, “the detention following a traffic stop .
. . must be reasonable.” Id. However,
“[a]n officer conducting a valid traffic stop can
detain the occupants of the vehicle long enough to accomplish
the purpose of the stop.” Id. ...