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United States v. Harris

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 29, 2015

United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
George Harris, Defendant - Appellant

Submitted May 11, 2015

Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - Kansas City.

For United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee: Christina Y. Tabor, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office, Kansas City, MO.

George Harris, Defendant - Appellant, Pro se, Bruceton Mills, WV.

For George Harris, Defendant - Appellant: David Lawrence Simpson, Saint James, MO.

Before WOLLMAN, SMITH, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

BENTON, Circuit Judge.

George B. Harris challenges the denial of his motion to suppress. He argues that the search that uncovered the firearm in his car was an unlawful inventory. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, this court affirms.

A Kansas City police officer stopped Harris for speeding. Before the stop, the officer saw him reaching below the driver's seat and center console. Approaching the car, the officer smelled marijuana, but could not determine the source. The officer ordered Harris out of the car and soon found marijuana in Harris's wallet. Finding that Harris was driving with a revoked license, the officer arrested him. Because the car was parked on the left shoulder of a highway, the officer called for a tow truck. He inventoried the car, discovering a loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun under the driver's seat. Harris admitted he was a convicted felon, knew the gun was in the car, and had handled it before.

Harris plead guilty to possessing a firearm after having been convicted of three previous violent felonies in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). He reserved the right to appeal the motion to suppress.

Reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress, the court reviews " the factual findings underlying the suppression ruling for clear error, and the court's legal conclusions de novo." United States v. Arrocha, 713 F.3d 1159, 1160 (8th Cir. 2013).

The Fourth Amendment protects " against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. Amend. IV. The " ultimate standard set forth in the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness." Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 439, 93 S.Ct. 2523, 37 L.Ed.2d 706 (1973). Under a community caretaking function, the " authority of police to seize and remove from the streets vehicles impeding traffic or threatening public safety and convenience is beyond challenge." South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364, 369, 96 S.Ct. 3092, 49 L.Ed.2d 1000 (1976). If the police seize a vehicle, " it is reasonable to search the container to itemize the property to be held by the police." Id. at 371.

Harris does not dispute the legality of the stop. He argues that the officer conducted the inventory as a pretext to seize evidence.

The district court[1] found that Harris's car was towed pursuant to police policy. The department's Procedural Instruction on Towing/Protective Custody of Vehicles states that, in the officer's discretion, a vehicle may be towed when the " driver of any vehicle is taken into custody by the police department and such vehicle would thereby be left unattended upon a street or highway." The city requires a content inventory for all towed ...


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