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United States v. Wright

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

December 23, 2016

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Lemarcus Arthur Wright, Defendant-Appellant.

          Submitted: September 23, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa - Davenport

          Before COLLOTON, MELLOY, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          COLLOTON, Circuit Judge.

         Lemarcus Wright entered a conditional plea of guilty to a drug trafficking charge, reserving his right to appeal an order of the district court[1] denying his motion to suppress evidence seized during and after a search of his vehicle. Wright has not established a violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment, so we affirm.

         The charge against Wright arose from an investigation of one Victor Brown by the Davenport, Iowa police department. In December 2014, a confidential informant made a controlled purchase of crack cocaine from Brown. A week later, on December 11, the informant notified police that Brown and he would be leaving for Chicago from Brown's residence at seven o'clock that evening with an unknown black male from Clinton, Iowa, to purchase crack cocaine. The informant said that he was supposed to drive the unknown black male's dark-colored sport utility vehicle with Clinton County license plates. Police later identified the unknown companion as Wright.

         Based on the informant's report, officers conducted surveillance near Brown's residence beginning at approximately six o'clock. Shortly after 6:30 p.m., police saw a dark-colored SUV with Clinton County license plates approach the home. Brown left the home and entered the SUV. Officers followed the vehicle until it merged onto eastbound Interstate 80 and then discontinued surveillance.

         Officers in Davenport reestablished surveillance of an area on Brown's likely return route at 12:45 a.m. on December 12. At approximately 1:30 a.m., officers observed the same dark-colored SUV traveling south on Highway 61 and followed it to Brown's residence. There, Brown and Wright exited the vehicle, walked to the back, opened the rear doors, and rummaged around for several minutes. Brown then entered his residence for a short time; when he returned, both men got back into the SUV. A few minutes later, Brown left the vehicle with a duffel bag and reentered his residence. There is no evidence that the confidential informant accompanied Brown and Wright in the vehicle.

         Wright departed Brown's residence in the SUV. Officers followed as Wright made two stops for fifteen to twenty minutes each, without anyone entering or exiting the vehicle, and then arrived at the parking lot of a multi-unit apartment complex. Officers were familiar with the apartment complex from other drug investigations at that address. After waiting for several minutes, the surveillance officers asked a uniformed officer to approach the SUV in a marked squad car and identify the vehicle's occupants.

         The uniformed officer drove onto the property, positioned the squad car behind Wright's SUV, and shined a spotlight onto the back window. The officer and Wright exited their respective vehicles, and a conversation ensued. Wright identified himself and said that he was visiting his cousin. The officer smelled burnt marijuana coming from Wright's person. The officer then directed Wright to walk with another officer away from the vehicle for questioning. Wright was eventually placed in the back seat of a squad car.

         The uniformed officer then walked around the outside of the SUV, observed a marijuana cigar on the front center console, and smelled marijuana emanating from the vehicle. Several officers searched the vehicle; they seized the marijuana cigar from the console and approximately 113 grams of crack cocaine from the glove compartment. Officers then placed Wright under arrest.

         A grand jury charged Wright with possession with intent to distribute cocaine base and conspiracy to distribute cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. Wright moved to suppress all evidence seized during the search of his vehicle, any statements he made at the scene or while in police custody, and any data obtained from his cellular telephone. The court orally denied the motion, and Wright entered a conditional plea to the conspiracy charge, reserving his right to appeal the denial.

         On appeal, Wright argues that the police violated the Fourth Amendment because they did not have probable cause to enter the apartment complex's curtilage, reasonable suspicion to detain him, or probable cause to search the vehicle. We review the district court's legal conclusions de novo and its factual findings for clear error. United States v. Bearden, 780 F.3d 887, 892 (8th Cir. 2015).

         The Constitution forbids unreasonable searches and seizures, but Fourth Amendment rights are personal rights and may not be vicariously asserted. Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 133-34 (1978). A person challenging the constitutionality of a search must demonstrate a legitimate expectation of privacy in the area searched-that is, he must have a subjective ...

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