Can police search a camper truck without a warrant under a pretense of helping wife get her property

A search typically requires a warrant based on probable cause. SeeUnited States v. Dalton , 918 F.3d 1117, 1127 (10th Cir. 2019). “Searches conducted without a warrant are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment—subject only to a few ‘specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.’ ” Roska ex rel. Roska v. Peterson , 328 F.3d 1230, 1248 (10th Cir. 2003) (quoting Katz v. United States , 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967) ). Although “the defendant bears the burden of proving whether and when the Fourth Amendment was implicated,” Hernandez , 847 F.3d at 1263 (quotations omitted), “[t]he government then bears the burden of proving that its warrantless actions were justified [by an exception],” United States v. Carhee , 27 F.3d 1493, 1496 (10th Cir. 1994). If the government establishes that an exception to the warrant requirement applies, the search is constitutional. SeeUnited States v. Maestas , 2 F.3d 1485, 1491-92 (10th Cir. 1993). The Government relies on the community-caretaking exception here.

The community-caretaking exception allows the government to introduce evidence obtained through searches that are “totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.” Cady v. Dombrowski , 413 U.S. 433, 441, 93 S.Ct. 2523, 37 L.Ed.2d 706 (1973). “Noninvestigatory searches of automobiles pursuant to this function … do not offend Fourth Amendment principles so long as such activities are warranted in terms of state law or sound police procedure, and are justified by concern for the safety of the general public ….” United States v. Lugo , 978 F.2d 631, 635 (10th Cir. 1992) (quotations omitted).

The government must also point to “specific and articulable facts which reasonably warrant an intrusion into the individual’s liberty,” and must show that “the government’s interest … outweigh[s] the individual’s interest in being free from arbitrary governmental interference.” United States v. Garner , 416 F.3d 1208, 1213 (10th Cir. 2005) (quotations omitted and alterations incorporated). Although officers are entitled to “some latitude in undertaking their community caretaking role,” their actions must be “reasonably related in scope” to the underlying justification. Lundstrom v. Romero , 616 F.3d 1108, 1123 (10th Cir. 2010) ; see alsoGarner , 416 F.3d at 1213 (explaining that the “scope [of a community-caretaking detention] must be carefully tailored to its underlying justification”).

The Government has not shown that “state law or sound police procedure” warranted opening the camper. Lugo , 978 F.2d at 635 (quotations omitted). Nor has it demonstrated how opening the camper was “justified by concern for the safety of the general public.” Id. (quotations omitted). Ms. Parrish could have opened the camper herself, and the Government fails to explain how her doing so might have created any danger. It identifies “no specific and articulable facts” demonstrating Deputy Clinton needed to stand behind the tailgate, lift the camper’s hatch, or look into the bed of the truck. Storey , 696 F.3d at 996 (quotations omitted). Nor was opening the camper “necessary to protect” Ms. Parrish, Mr. Neugin, the officers, or others. Id. (quotations omitted).

The Government points out that Deputy Clinton needed to “separate a feuding couple.” Aplee. Br. at 12. But this does not explain why he needed to open the camper or look inside.

Deputy Clinton unconstitutionally searched the truck when he opened the camper and looked in. He exceeded any community-caretaking role.

Full case here: United States v. Neugin, 958 F.3d 924, 930 (10th Cir. 2020),

Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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