“Although the distinction between the independent-source and inevitable-discovery doctrines is not sharp …, where exactly one draws the line between the two doctrines is unimportant.” United States v. Baez, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 40551 (8th Cir. Dec. 29, 2020):
Although the distinction between the independent-source and inevitable-discovery doctrines is not sharp, see, e.g., United States v. Johnson, 380 F.3d 1013, 1014 (7th Cir. 2004) (expressing uncertainty regarding “which [doctrine] rules this case”), where exactly one draws the line between the two doctrines is unimportant. Underlying both doctrines is the principle that, “while the government should not profit from its illegal activity, neither should it be placed in a worse position than it would otherwise have occupied.” Murray, 487 U.S. at 542; see also Nix, 467 U.S. at 443-44 (explaining that the point of both doctrines is to put the police “in the same . . . position that they would have been in if no police error or misconduct had occurred”). Provided that the evidence would have been acquired lawfully if the unlawful search had not occurred, admitting the evidence puts the government in the same position that it would have occupied if the unlawful search had not occurred. This is true regardless whether the evidence in fact was (re)acquired lawfully—and thus whether the appropriate exception to invoke is the independent-source doctrine rather than the inevitable-discovery doctrine. See Murray, 487 U.S. at 541-42 (explaining that admissibility does not turn on the “metaphysical” question whether it is possible for officers who retain evidence after seizing it unlawfully to “reseize” it lawfully).
One way for police to acquire evidence lawfully is pursuant to a valid search warrant. See, e.g., Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128, 139 (1990). To determine whether evidence within the scope of a valid warrant would have been acquired had a prior unlawful search not occurred, we ask whether (1) law enforcement “would have sought a warrant even if the [unlawful] search had not occurred,” and (2) “the warrant was supported by probable cause even without information gained from the [unlawful] search.” Anguiano, 934 F.3d at 874.
Here, the officers ultimately obtained a warrant to search the entire hotel suite and the Equinox. Crediting Officer Gruber’s testimony, the district court found that the officers would have halted their search and sought a warrant had they thought that they lacked valid consent from Gavino to search the entire suite. United States v. Anguiano, No. 17-135(1) ADM/DTS, 2019 WL 2443540, at *5-6 (D. Minn. June 11, 2019). We affirmed this finding in Anguiano, 934 F.3d at 874, and we are bound by that precedent here, see Mader v. United States, 654 F.3d 794, 800 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (“[O]ne panel is bound by the decision of a prior panel.”). The district court also found that the warrant was supported by probable cause even without the information gained from the allegedly unlawful search of the back room. United States v. Anguiano, No. 17-135 ADM/DTS, 2017 WL 6501840, at *10 (D. Minn. Dec. 19, 2017). Again, we affirmed this finding in Anguiano, 934 F.3d at 875, and we are bound by that precedent here, see Mader, 654 F.3d at 800. Even assuming the initial search of the back room was unlawful, then, any evidence that fell within the scope of the warrant was admissible. And both the evidence found in the back room and the evidence found in the safe in the Equinox fell within the scope of the warrant. See United States v. Darr, 661 F.3d 375, 379 (8th Cir. 2011) (explaining that a warrant to search a bedroom authorized a search of containers in the bedroom). Therefore, both the evidence found in the back room and the evidence found in the safe in the Equinox were admissible.