S.D.Iowa: Def’s SnapChat posts provided PC to search his vehicle

Defendant’s public social media posts (here, SnapChat) about his drug activities provided probable cause to search his vehicle for drugs. United States v. Manuel, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 199261 (S.D. Iowa Oct. 21, 2020):

Probable cause did exist, however, for the officers to search the vehicle for drugs and firearms. This case is similar to United States v. Blaylock, 535 F.3d 922 (8th Cir. 2008), where probable cause existed to support a search of the defendant’s car parked next to his house when an undercover investigation had revealed a pattern of drug dealing involving the use of that vehicle. Law enforcement officers conducting a sting operation observed the defendant walk to a blue Nissan four-door car and reach into the vehicle before returning to the undercover agent to sell him drugs. Id. at 924. After conducting surveillance on the defendant’s residence, officers set up another controlled-buy operation where the defendant’s associate left the residence in the blue Nissan to travel to where the undercover agent was located, where they exchanged money for drugs before returning to the defendant’s residence. Id. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress drugs obtained from a warrantless search of the blue Nissan while executing a search warrant for the defendant’s residence because the search was supported by “more than sufficient probable cause for the officers to conclude the Nissan contained evidence of illegal activity.” Id. at 927.

Here, too, officers observed a pattern that established a fair probability they would find a handgun and marijuana in the silver Chevrolet Impala. In the days and weeks leading up to his July 21, 2020 arrest, SET officers had observed a pattern of Manuel possessing marijuana and a handgun through his Snapchat posts. In two videos Manuel is seen with a gun and the same black Puma fanny pack observed in plain view through the windows of his car, and officers testified this is a common method of transporting illicit firearms. See [Gov’t Exs. 2, 3]. Officer Kramer testified he observed this fanny pack in plain view sitting in the front seat of the car. In two other videos, Manuel is seen in a vehicle with an interior consistent with that of the silver Chevrolet Impala with a firearm, and one of these shows the handgun in the same driver’s door pocket as when it was found. See [Gov’t Ex. 4]; see also [Gov’t Ex. 1]. Like the circumstances in Blaylock, repeated observations in the days leading up to the search of the Impala “demonstrate[] a clear link between the car and drug trafficking sufficient to provide probable cause.” 535 F.3d at 927. And once officers had accessed the car, the presence of the handgun in plain view of the open driver’s side door presented further probable cause to continue and expand the search. See United States v. Brooks, 645 F.3d 971, 976 (8th Cir. 2011) (“Hidden guns, even badly hidden guns, are by their nature incriminating.”).

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