United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
RULING AND ORDER
A. JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Doc.
17), seeking to suppress an alleged illegal search
and seizure in which a firearm possessed by Defendant was
recovered. Defendant asks the Court to find that he has
standing to challenge the search of the vehicle of which he
was a passenger. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's
Motion is DENIED.
February 16, 2019, Defendant was arrested by Zachary Police
Officer Daulton Rainwater, who was monitoring traffic on LA
Hwy 67 from the parking lot of Pierce Automotive when he
observed the passenger of a 2006 grey Honda Accord not
wearing a seatbelt as the car traveled southbound on the
highway. After conducting a traffic stop on the vehicle,
Officer Rainwater claimed he smelled a strong odor of
marijuana coming from the vehicle. Defendant was the
collecting identification from both the driver and the
Defendant, Officer Rainwater asked the driver, Benniesha
Brown, to step out of the vehicle. Officer Rainwater asked
Brown if there were any illegal substances in the vehicle.
(Doc. 22 at p. 3). The Government claims that Brown denied
the presence of illegal substances inside the vehicle. The
Government further claims that Brown admitted that there was
a gun located inside of her backpack and that the gun
belonged to her boyfriend, the Defendant. (Id.)
Government asserts that after learning that Defendant had
been convicted of a felony, Officer Rainwater approached
Defendant and advised him of his Miranda rights.
Officer Rainwater claims that Johnson advised him that there
was a 9mm handgun inside the vehicle. Officer Rainwater
proceeded to conduct a search of the vehicle due to the
strong odor of marijuana and the statements about the gun.
During the search, Officer Rainwater found a loaded 9mm
handgun that Defendant allegedly admitted to purchasing
“off the streets” (Doc. 22 at p. 3).
24, 2019, Defendant was indicted for possession of a firearm
by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§922(g)(1). In his Motion to Suppress, Defendant
contends that the traffic stop was not supported by probable
cause and that the subsequent search was not permissible as
one of the established exceptions to the warrant requirement.
The Court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the Motion to
consider the issue of standing.
argues that the search of the vehicle lacked consent,
probable cause and a valid warrant. Warrantless searches are
per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment unless the
Government proves that the search meets one of the
established exceptions. Coolidge v. New Hampshire,
403 U.S. 443, 91 S.Ct. 2022 (1971). The Government bears the
burden of proof that a search is valid when no warrant has
been issued. See Welsh v. Wisconsin. 466 U.S. 740,
749-50, 104 S.Ct. 2091, 2097 (1984).
Government advances four arguments in response to the Motion:
1) Defendant lacks standing to challenge the search of the
vehicle; 2) the initial stop was based on reasonable
suspicion that a traffic violation occurred; 3) the
investigation did not last longer than necessary to
effectuate the purpose of the stop before additional
reasonable suspicion was developed; and 4) the officer had
probable cause to search the vehicle. Due to the restricted
scope of the hearing, the Court will only address whether
Defendant has standing to challenge the search.
Whether Defendant Has Standing to Challenge the
was a passenger in the vehicle which belonged to and was
driven by his girlfriend, Brown. Defendant argues that he has
standing to challenge the search because he has an ownership
and possessory interest in the vehicle. The Government
asserts that Defendant lacks standing because he lacks an
expectation of privacy and a possessory interest in the
vehicle that was searched.
conferred by the Fourth Amendment are personal in nature and
cannot bestow vicarious protection on those who do not have a
reasonable expectation of privacy in the place to be
searched. Minnesota v. Carter, 525 U.S. 83, 101, 119
S.Ct. 469, 479 (1998) (citing Steagald v. U.S., 451
U.S. 204, 219, 101 S.Ct. 1642 (1981). The Supreme Court of
the United States established a two-prong test to determine
whether a defendant has standing to bring a Fourth Amendment
challenge to a search: (1) whether the defendant is able to
establish an actual subjective expectation of privacy with
respect to the place being searched or items being seized,
and (2) whether that expectation of privacy is one which
society would recognize as objectively reasonable. U.S.
v. Kye Soo Lee, 898 F.2d 1034, 1037-38 (5th Cir.
1990)(citing Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 151,
99 S.Ct. 421, 434 (1978)). To determine whether a passenger
has an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy, courts
consider “whether the defendant has a possessory
interest in the thing seized or the place searched, whether
he has exhibited a subjective expectation that it would
remain free from governmental invasion, whether he took
normal precautions to maintain his privacy, and whether he
was legitimately on the premises.” United States v.
Gomez, 276 F.3d 694, 697-98 (5th Cir. 2001).
evidentiary hearing, Officer Rainwater confirmed that the
vehicle is only registered in Brown's name. The
Government sought to establish that the absence of
Defendant's name on the registration is dispositive that
Defendant lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy as well
as a possessory interest in the vehicle. Defendant testified
that although his name is not on the registration, he still
has a legitimate possessory interest in the vehicle.
Defendant testified that he and Brown have cohabitated and
raised kids together for the last decade and that he helped
her select the vehicle. Defendant also ...