CA8: Search of def’s car for gun was reasonable as a SI even though def was arrested away from the car

Police received a 911 call about a road rage incident and flashing of a gun. They found the vehicle described in the call in a strip mall parking lot. They finally found the driver and detained him, ultimately handcuffing him. A search of the car for the gun in the road rage incident was reasonable as a search incident under Gant because the gun wasn’t accounted for. United States v. Stegall, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 4347 (8th Cir. March 13, 2017):

Officers reasonably believed Stegall’s vehicle might contain evidence relevant to Stegall’s arrest for terroristic threatening because (1) Stegall confirmed he was the driver of the SUV and involved in an earlier road rage incident, (2) Stegall told the officers he “probably” had a firearm in his vehicle, (3) the 911 caller positively identified Stegall as the driver who brandished a gun at him during the reported road rage incident, and (4) a witness observed Stegall concealing something in the rear hatch of his SUV. Because these facts created a reasonable basis for the officers to believe Stegall’s SUV contained evidence relevant to the terroristic threat charge—the gun, we affirm the district court’s ruling that the officers’ warrantless search of Stegall’s SUV was reasonable. See Allen, 713 F.3d at 387.

Stegall contends the second Gant exception does not apply because he was restrained in police custody and, thus, could not acquire a weapon or destroy evidence. Stegall’s argument fails to appreciate the distinct rationales underlying the two Gant exceptions. See Gant, 556 U.S. at 339, 343 (discussing the different policy interests supporting each exception). The first exception is grounded in the “safety and evidentiary interests” recognized in Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 89 S. Ct. 2034, 23 L. Ed. 2d 685 (1969), and New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454, 101 S. Ct. 2860, 69 L. Ed. 2d 768 (1981), abrogated by Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 129 S. Ct. 1710, 173 L. Ed. 2d 485. See Gant, 556 U.S. at 339-41, 346. In contrast, the second exception is independent of the first and supported by “circumstances unique to [*7] the vehicle context.” Id. at 343; see, e.g., Riley v. California, 573 U.S. __, __, 134 S. Ct. 2473, 2484, 189 L. Ed. 2d 430 (2014) (“Gant added … an independent exception for a warrantless search of a vehicle’s passenger compartment when it is reasonable to believe evidence relevant to the crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle.” (internal quotation marks omitted)); Allen, 713 F.3d at 387. Because the second Gant exception is supported by independent rationales, Stegall’s argument that “[t]here was no exigency for a search incident” to arrest because he was restrained and locked in the back of a patrol car is inapposite.

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