M.D.Ala.: Consent to search after Miranda violation not attenuated

Defendant’s consent to search after his admitted Miranda violation was invalid. Moreover, the vehicle search was otherwise unlawful because the government can’t support it as an inventory search. United States v. Groce, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93352 (M.D.Ala. July 1, 2016), adopted in part, rejected in part, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92874 (M.D.Ala. July 18, 2016):

The court conducts “two separate inquiries where a consent to search follows prior illegal activity by the police. First, a court must determine whether the consent was voluntary. Second, the court must determine whether the consent, even if voluntary, requires exclusion of the evidence found during the search because it was the ‘fruit of the poisonous tree.’” United States v. Delancy, 502 F.3d 1297, 1308 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing United States v. Santa, 236 F.3d 662, 676-77 (11th Cir. 2000)). The parties skip over the first step, but the “two step approach is mandatory, and the government bears the burden on both issues.” Delancy, 502 F.3d at 1308 (citing United States v. Robinson, 625 F.2d 1211, 1219 (5th Cir. 1980)). The Government has made no attempt to carry its burden on the first step, and an independent review of the record finds insufficient evidence of voluntariness. As to the second inquiry, the Government offers that the inevitable discovery exception saves these items because officers could have obtained a search warrant if Groce refused to give consent. Doc. 120 at 8. However, “[b]ecause a valid search warrant nearly always can be obtained after the search has occurred,” the Eleventh Circuit has expressly rejected this argument. United States v. Satterfield, 743 F.2d 827, 846 (11th Cir. 1984). Instead, officers must already be “pursuing a lawful means of discovery at the time the illegality occurred.” Id. To hold that a hypothetical future search warrant cures the earlier illegality “would practically destroy the requirement that a warrant … be obtained before the search takes place,” and undermine the “constitutionally-mandated preference for substituting the judgment of a detached and neutral magistrate for that of a searching officer.” Id.; see also United States v. Quinney, 583 F.3d 891, 894-95 (6th Cir. 2009) (rejecting the government’s argument that the inevitable discovery doctrine cures a Fourth Amendment violation when officers could have, but did not, obtain a search warrant before seizing the defendant’s printer); ….

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C. Warrantless Search of Groce’s Vehicle

While the search of Groce’s vehicle may not be fruit of the poisonous tree, it was illegal nonetheless. At the time of Groce’s arrest on July 21, 2014, ACSO deputies seized and impounded his Lincoln Town Car from the parking lot outside his place of employment. Tr. at 32. The following day, police searched Groce’s vehicle without his consent and without a warrant, seizing several items of interest. Def. Ex. 11 at 23. Groce contends that this evidence must be suppressed because the search of his vehicle violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. The court agrees.

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The Government does not carry its burden. At the hearing, the Government did not present any evidence demonstrating that Groce’s vehicle was jeopardizing public safety, impeding the efficient movement of traffic, was stolen, or presented a risk of vandalism or theft such that its impoundment was warranted. See United States v. Foskey, 455 F. App’x 884, 889 (11th Cir. 2012). The Government likewise failed to offer evidence demonstrating any standardized criteria or established ACSO departmental policies for conducting inventory searches, or that the officers complied with these policies when they impounded and searched Groce’s vehicle. In fact, the ACSO Report of Investigation specifically states that the officers drove to Groce’s place of employment “to take custody of the suspect’s vehicle, which was used in the commission of the robbery,” and that they “searched the vehicle for any useable evidence” after they impounded it. Def. Ex. 11 at 22-23. This goes well beyond the scope of a permissible inventory search.

Because the search of Groce’s vehicle was conducted without a warrant and the Government has failed to establish the applicability of the inventory search exception to the Fourth Amendment’s general prohibition against warrantless searches, the search of Groce’s vehicle was conducted in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Any evidence obtained as a result of this search must be suppressed.

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