Submitted: October 20, 2017
from United States District Court for the District of
Minnesota - St. Paul
LOKEN, GRUENDER, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.
Allen Class conditionally pleaded guilty to possession of a
stolen firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(j). He
appeals the district court's denial of his motion to
suppress the firearm and other evidence seized during a
roadside encounter with the St. Paul police. Reviewing the
district court's legal conclusions de novo and
its factual findings for clear error, we affirm. See
United States v. Marasco, 487 F.3d 543, 547 (8th Cir.
2007) (standard of review).
patrol the morning of October 2, 2015, St. Paul Police
Officer Trygve Sand and his partner, Andrew Heroux, saw a
Lincoln Town Car parked on the opposite side of the street.
Its hood was raised, and two men standing in front of the
grill appeared to be working on the engine. Officer Sand
recognized the men -- Defendant Ronald Class and Patrick
Hedican -- as prior narcotics offenders. Officer Sand had
arrested Class for narcotics offenses in 2001 and 2005 and
was familiar with Class's involvement in auto-theft,
narcotics, and weapons offenses that included prior felony
convictions. Days earlier, narcotics Officer Tony Holter had
called to inform Sand that officers relying on an
informant's tip had stopped Class on September 23 and
recovered a nine-millimeter magazine from his vehicle, but no
Sand made a U-turn, parked behind the Town Car, and turned on
his squad car's emergency lights, activating its
audio-video recording equipment. Officers Sand and Heroux
exited the squad car and approached Class and Hedican,
walking on opposite sides of the Town Car. In a brief
discussion, Class told Sand he was working on the Town
Car's belt, explaining it belonged to his father and had
been in storage. Sand then asked Class, "Hey Ron, can
you come back here and talk to me real quick?" Class
followed Officer Sand to the front of his squad car, where
Sand asked if Class had been in touch with Officer Holter.
Class's response is mostly inaudible on the audio
recording. Officer Sand asked Class if he had any
"bazookas" on him. Class replied "no."
Officer Sand asked, "Mind if I check you out real
quick?" Sand then patted down Class. He did not find
anything that felt like a weapon but reached into Class's
pant pocket and retrieved a small amount of marijuana.
Sand then locked Class in the squad car, explaining he was
not under arrest. Sand walked to the front of the Town Car,
brought Hedican around to the side of the car, and patted him
down. Sand then walked back to the front of the Town Car,
looked down into the car's exposed engine compartment,
and called Officer Holter to advise that he had detained
Class and Hedican. During the phone conversation, Sand saw a
small, clear bag tucked between the radiator and front grill
containing a substance he suspected was methamphetamine. He
told Holter, "[a]s I'm talking to you, I see he
ditched some dope in the grill of this car." At the
suppression hearing, Sand testified he did not need to
manipulate the engine compartment to see the bag. He simply
looked straight down into the compartment and spotted the
drugs on the passenger side of the compartment.
completing his call to Officer Holter and requesting a camera
crew, Officer Sand confronted Hedican, who denied knowledge
of the methamphetamine. Sand returned to his squad car and
read Class Miranda warnings. Class claimed he knew
nothing about the methamphetamine. Repeatedly asked what else
might be in the car, Class eventually said there might be a
gun under one of the seats. Sand returned to the Town Car,
looked through the driver's side window, and saw what
appeared to be a white shirt or rag covering a large object.
Sand entered the car and found a .25 caliber semiautomatic
handgun under the white cloth. Further search of the Town Car
uncovered evidence of narcotics trafficking. Class made
incriminating statements before being transported to a local
hospital after paramedics arrived and advised that his
colostomy bag needed to be reattached.
for being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition,
Class moved to suppress the methamphetamine, his
post-Miranda statements to Officer Sand, and the
firearm seized from the Town Car. The magistrate judge held
an evidentiary hearing and recommended denying the motion.
Class objected, raising numerous issues, though he conceded
the initial encounter was consensual. The district court
concluded that Officer Sand lacked reasonable suspicion that
criminal activity was afoot or that Class was armed and
dangerous. Therefore, the pat down search followed by
detention in the back seat of the squad car violated
Class's Fourth Amendment right to be free from
unreasonable search and seizure. However, the district court
concluded, Officer Sand's discovery of methamphetamine in
the Town Car's exposed engine compartment was lawful
under the plain view doctrine and was not "meaningfully
connected" to the prior constitutional violation.
Therefore, the court adopted the magistrate judge's
recommendation and denied the motion to suppress.
district court found that the small bag of methamphetamine
was in plain view when Officer Sand looked down into the Town
Car's exposed engine compartment. Under the plain view
doctrine, "if police are lawfully in a position from
which they view an object, if its incriminating character is
immediately apparent, and if the officers have a lawful right
of access to the object, they may seize it without a
warrant." Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366,
375 (1993). The district court concluded that Officer Sand
was in a lawful position to view the bag because Class
"had no reasonable expectation of privacy in an area of
the car that he had left exposed to anyone walking by on a
public street." We agree. Class notes that the engine
compartment of a parked car is an area not typically visible
to pedestrians, and argues that Officer Sand had no
justification to move Class and Hedican out of the way and
peer inside. But items that an officer finds while actively
looking for them are still in plain view if the officer is
standing in a place where he has a right to be. See
United States v. Gillon, 348 F.3d 755, 760 (8th Cir.
primarily argues that Officer Sand's discovery of the
methamphetamine was tainted by his prior unconstitutional
conduct because Sand would not have made the discovery had
Class not been unconstitutionally seized from his position in
front of the Town Car. The unlawful seizure of
methamphetamine furnished Sand probable cause for custodial
interrogation of Class and search of the Town Car's
interior. Therefore, Class argues, his post-Miranda
statements and the firearm found ...