4th Amendment Blog CA5: Defendant’s consent was strictly limited and limit was ignored; suppressed
Defendant was stopped for a traffic offense, and the officer had a tip that he had drugs. When consent was sought, defendant said only his luggage, memorialized on video. The officer started searching and searched the whole car, finding a hidden panel in the door. The search far exceeded the consent, and the search should have been suppressed. United States v. Cotton, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 13537 (5th Cir. July 2, 2013):
The government’s argument rests on faulty understandings of both law and fact. True, if Cotton properly limited his consent to a search of his luggage, that consent would permit Viator to enter the car and search those items. It is also true that if, during such a limited entry into the vehicle, Viator were to discover evidence of a hidden compartment, that discovery might provide probable cause to search the suspected compartment. The video evidence and Viator’s own testimony, however, reveal that he discovered the loose screws and tool markings on the driver’s-side rear door panel not as he was trying to locate Cotton’s luggage and not as he was examining the contents of such luggage. Rather, after locating and searching the luggage in the backseat area of the car, Viator expanded his search for evidence of contraband to the vehicle itself by proceeding to examine, inter alia, the driver’s-side rear door. Authority to enter and search the car for Cotton’s luggage was not authority to search discrete locations within the car where luggage could not reasonably be expected to be found. Neither was it justification for lingering in and around the vehicle for 40 minutes—much longer than a search for and of Cotton’s luggage should or could conceivably last.
Again, this is obvious. Did the District Judge just not have the guts to suppress a search so clearly in violation of the Fourth Amendment?