IL: Bailee of vehicle has no authority to open or permit search of sealed packages or containers inside

A bailment of a vehicle doesn’t give the bailee the authority to consent or open sealed packages or containers inside. People v. Ortega, 2020 IL App (1st) 162516, 2020 Ill. App. LEXIS 236 (Apr. 10, 2020):

[*P28] However, we cannot find that just because the truck driver had apparent authority to allow a search of the BMW, he also had apparent authority to allow the police to open the sealed packages in the BMW’s trunk. To establish the apparent authority type of third-party consent to search a closed container, the government must show that a reasonable person, in the circumstances presented to the government agent, would reasonably believe that the third party had authority over the container. United States v. Basinski, 226 F.3d 829, 834 (7th Cir. 2000). Mere possession of a closed container by a third party does not automatically give rise to a finding of apparent authority to consent to a search of its contents. Id. Rather, apparent authority depends on the third party’s use of, control over, and access to the container. Id. Here, the truck driver was empowered to enter the BMW, drive it off the transport truck, and open the trunk to access the battery. Thus, he had apparent authority over the BMW and could consent to the search of its interior. See Covarrubias, 847 F.3d at 558; Crowder, 588 F.3d at 935-36. But none of these circumstances would give rise to a reasonable belief that the truck driver also had authority over the sealed packages in the BMW’s trunk. See People v. James, 163 Ill. 2d 302, 315-16, 319, 645 N.E.2d 195, 206 Ill. Dec. 190 (1994) (where there was no question that person with apparent authority over vehicle did not own, control, or have common possession of closed container located within that vehicle, that person did not have apparent authority to consent to search of that container).

[*P29] With regard to government searches of closed containers, the United States Supreme Court has explained:

“[S]ealed packages are in the general class of effects in which the public at large has a legitimate expectation of privacy; warrantless searches of such effects are presumptively unreasonable.[ ] Even when government agents may lawfully seize such a package to prevent loss or destruction of suspected contraband, the Fourth Amendment requires that they obtain a warrant before examining the contents of such a package.” United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 114, 104 S. Ct. 1652, 80 L. Ed. 2d 85 (1984).

Here, the truck driver lacked apparent authority over the sealed packages and, therefore, could not consent to a police search of their contents. Pursuant to Jacobsen, a warrant was required. See id.

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