Opening box truck’s cargo door constitutes a search under 4th Amendment and police needed a WARRANT.

Yuen contends, inter alia, that Officer Kline’s opening the rear cargo door without his permission violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and, therefore, all evidence the government obtained through exploitation of that illegality must be suppressed as “ ‘fruit of the poisonous tree.’ ” Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 488, 83 S.Ct. 407, 9 L.Ed.2d 441 (1963). We assume, without deciding, that the officers’ conduct up until the time that Officer Kline opened the rear cargo door without permission did not violate the Fourth Amendment. However, Officer Kline’s opening of the rear cargo door constituted a search for purposes of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. See United States v. Winsor, 846 F.2d 1569, 1572-73 (9th Cir.1988) (en banc ) (police conducted “search” of hotel room for Fourth Amendment purposes when they gained visual entry into room through door that was opened at their command and while they stood in hotel corridor). Accordingly, in order for the search to be justified under the Fourth Amendment, at least one of the following two circumstances must have existed: (1) probable cause to believe the rear cargo area contained contraband or evidence of a crime, United States v. Bagley, 772 F.2d 482, 491 (9th Cir.1985) (“[P]robable cause alone suffices to justify a warrantless search of a vehicle lawfully parked in a public place, as long as the scope of the search is reasonable.”), or (2) the officers had an objectively reasonable fear of an immediate threat for their safety, see Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1049, 103 S.Ct. 3469, 77 L.Ed.2d 1201 (1983) (during investigatory stop of automobile pursuant to Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), police officer may search for weapons in passenger compartment, “limited to those areas in which a weapon may be placed or hidden, … if the police officer possesses a reasonable belief based on specific and articulable facts which, taken together with the rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the officer in believing that the suspect is dangerous and the suspect may gain immediate control of weapons”) (internal quotation marks omitted). Neither of these circumstances existed in the present case. There was absolutely nothing specific about the tip the officers received, nor about the circumstances in which they came upon the truck, that provided any grounds for a reasonable fear that they were in danger. Also, the officers identified the sound they heard coming from the cargo area as “drilling.” Coming, as it did, from an individual in the parking lot of a home improvement store, such activity would not render a “reasonably prudent man in such circumstances [to] be warranted in the belief that his safety or that of others was in danger.” Id. at 1050, 103 S.Ct. 3469. Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s partial denial of Yuen’s motion to suppress, vacate the judgment, and remand to permit Yuen to withdraw his guilty plea. See *745 United States v. Bautista, 362 F.3d 584, 593 (9th Cir.2004) (similar disposition).

Full case here: United States v. Yuen, 113 F. App’x 742 (9th Cir. 2004)

Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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