Submitted: September 27, 2019
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Arkansas - Little Rock
SMITH, Chief Judge, WOLLMAN and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.
McGhee entered a conditional plea of guilty to a charge of
being a felon in possession of a firearm after the district
court denied a motion to suppress a handgun
found during a search of McGhee's automobile. Because the
search was supported by probable cause, we affirm.
the early morning hours of June 11, 2017, Officer Brandon
Bennett of the North Little Rock Police Department responded
to a traffic accident involving Delandus McGhee. McGhee told
Officer Bennett that he was in a hurry to pick up and take
his daughter to the hospital. Officer Bennett expedited his
processing of the accident, citing McGhee for unsafe driving
and releasing him on a traffic summons. Twenty-five minutes
later, Officer Bennett observed McGhee driving in the same
vicinity. Suspicious, Officer Bennett ran a background check
on McGhee and discovered an outstanding arrest warrant and a
suspended driver's license.
Bennett decided to execute the warrant, and eventually found
McGhee asleep in his parked car. Officer Bennett woke McGhee
and ordered him out of the vehicle. As he exited, with
Officer Bennett securing his left arm, McGhee reached down
toward the car's floormat. Officer Bennett told him not
reach for anything, grabbed McGhee's right arm, and
handcuffed him. McGhee informed Officer Bennett he was
attempting to retrieve his shoe. Having secured McGhee,
Officer Bennett went to retrieve the shoe and noticed the
floormat had an extremely raised center. Officer Bennett
brought the shoe to McGhee, returned to the car, and lifted
the floormat to find the firearm for which McGhee pled guilty
and was sentenced to seventy-seven months' imprisonment.
brought a motion to suppress claiming the search was
warrantless and unsupported by probable cause. The district
court denied the motion to suppress without a hearing,
holding that the search fit within the automobile exception
to the warrant requirement. McGhee conditionally pled guilty
reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion.
motion to suppress is appealed, we review the district
court's legal conclusions de novo and its
factual findings for clear error. United States v.
Shackleford, 830 F.3d 751, 752 (8th Cir. 2016). We will
affirm an order denying suppression unless it lacks
substantial evidence in the record, is based on an error of
law, or when viewed in the light of the entire record we are
left with a firm and definite conviction that a mistake has
been made. United States v. Farnell, 701 F.3d 256,
260-61 (8th Cir. 2012).
search generally requires a warrant to pass muster under the
Fourth Amendment. E.g., Riley v.
California, 573 U.S. 373, 381-82 (2014). Warrantless
searches, however, can satisfy our Constitution if they fit
within an exception to the warrant requirement. Id.
at 382. The automobile exception is one of these, allowing an
officer to legally search a vehicle if he has probable cause.
Shackleford, 830 F.3d at 753; see also United
States v. Grooms, 602 F.3d 939, 942-43 (8th Cir. 2010)
("The Supreme Court justified the departure from the
traditional warrant requirement because of the lower
expectation of privacy in vehicles and also their unique
cause is present "where there is a fair probability that
contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a
particular place." Shackleford, 830 F.3d at 753
(cleaned up). In other words, "[a] police officer has
probable cause to conduct a search when the facts available
to him would warrant a person of reasonable caution in the
belief that contraband or evidence of a crime is
present." United States v. Murillo-Salgado, 854
F.3d 407, 418 (8th Cir. 2017) (cleaned up). Probable cause
does not "require evidence sufficient to support a
conviction, nor even evidence demonstrating that it is more
likely than not that the suspect committed a crime."
United States v. Donnelly, 475 F.3d 946, 954 (8th
Cir. 2007) (cleaned up).
Bennett had probable cause here for the reasons cited by the
district court: McGhee's duplicity at the traffic stop a
few hours before his arrest and his sudden reach toward the
floormat as Officer Bennett was escorting him from the
vehicle both tend to support a finding of probable cause.
See United States v. Jones, 535 F.3d 886, 891 (8th
Cir. 2008) ("Evasive behavior, while not alone
dispositive, is another fact supporting probable
cause."); United States v. Ameling, 328 F.3d
443, 449 (8th Cir. 2003) (noting that, among other things,
"apparently false ...