M.D.Pa.: On remand of Byrd, GFE applied to standing issue

On the Sixth Circuit’s remand of Byrd v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 1518 (2018), to the District Court, the court finds the good faith exception applies to standing issues arising before it was decided. United States v. Byrd, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129379 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 2, 2019):

B. Good Faith Exception

This court determined that the good faith exception provided an alternate basis for denying Byrd’s motion to suppress. We held that because the troopers relied in good faith on then-existing Third Circuit precedent—that an unauthorized driver of a rental vehicle lacked a legitimate expectation of privacy therein—the evidence obtained from the search of the rental vehicle was not subject to the exclusionary rule. Byrd, 2019 WL 2387190, at *8 (quoting United States v. Kennedy, 638 F.3d 159, 165 (3d Cir. 2011), abrogated by, Byrd, 138 S. Ct. 1518). On remand from the Supreme Court, the Third Circuit initially affirmed Byrd’s conviction based on the good faith exception. See United States v. Byrd, No. 16-1509, Doc. 3113003851 at 4-6 (3d Cir. Aug. 8, 2018). However, Byrd correctly points out that the Third Circuit subsequently vacated this opinion on reconsideration. See United States v. Byrd, 742 F. App’x 587, 588 n.2 (3d Cir. 2018).

We conclude that the good faith exception still applies to the matter sub judice, albeit for a different reason. The good faith exception applies not only when an officer reasonably relies on binding appellate precedent, but also when an officer acts “upon an objectively reasonable good faith belief in the legality of their conduct.” United States v. Vasquez-Algarin, 821 F.3d 467, 483 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting United States v. Katzin, 769 F.3d 163, 182 (3d Cir. 2014) (en banc)). The second inquiry focuses on “‘whether a reasonably well trained officer would have known that the search was illegal’ in light of [the] constellation of circumstances.” Katzin, 769 F.3d at 182 (citing United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 922 (1984)). The Supreme Court has recognized that an admission of criminal activity carries indicia of credibility sufficient to establish probable cause to search. See United States v. Harris, 403 U.S. 573, 583 (1971).

The troopers reasonably suspected that Byrd was engaged in criminal activity. Byrd had an active warrant, a criminal record which included drug convictions, and a known alias. Byrd, 2019 WL 2387190, at *6. He presented a non-traditional driver’s license to the troopers, exhibited signs of extreme nervousness, and was driving a rental vehicle in another person’s name. Id. As the troopers questioned Byrd about their suspicion that he was engaged in criminal activity, Byrd admitted that his rental vehicle contained an illegal drug. Id. at *6 & n.7. And on the patrol car’s surveillance video, Trooper Long stated that he had probable cause to search the vehicle based on Byrd’s admission to the presence of a controlled substance. Id. at *3. Against this factual landscape, we conclude that Troopers Long and Martin had an objectively reasonable, good faith belief that their conduct complied with the strictures of the Fourth Amendment. We will amend the portion of our June 6, 2019 memorandum applying the good faith exception in accordance with the above analysis.

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