This is as very interesting case that results in two different car searches on two separate occasions. Here are the facts from the case:
Around 1:00 AM on April 12, 2017, Dunn fell asleep at the wheel of a moving Buick sedan on street in Minneapolis. The Buick ran into three parked cars before spinning to a stop in the middle of the street, sustaining damage which rendered the vehicle undriveable. Minneapolis police officers arrived on the scene and found the Buick sitting in the street and chose to tow and impound it. They did so despite the fact that Dunn had already contacted a private tow truck. Following their department policy, the officers conducted an inventory search of the Buick before towing it. During the search, they discovered two semi-automatic pistols, two baggies containing crack cocaine, and two digital scales. Dunn was arrested and detained by local authorities, but released from local custody on April 26, 2017.
Two months later, on June 20, 2017, two Minneapolis Police Department officers in an unmarked car encountered Dunn as he was driving on a city street. Dunn sped away from the officers, who followed him and observed him make several turns at a high rate of speed without using his turn signal. The officers considered this conduct to be reckless driving, especially in an area where children were playing, and activated the vehicle’s police lights to pull Dunn over. Dunn pulled over, got out of his vehicle, and began to walk away. Officer Donnell Crayton exited the police vehicle, directed Dunn to put his hands up, and escorted him to the police vehicle. While Officer Crayton handcuffed and detained Dunn, including frisking him for weapons, Officer Kong Moua walked up to Dunn’s vehicle to see if anyone else was inside. As he looked through the driver’s side window, Officer Moua saw a plastic bag that appeared to contain crack cocaine in an open compartment on the dashboard. Officer Moua then obtained the vehicle’s key from Dunn and conducted an automobile search. In addition to the crack cocaine, he discovered a loaded handgun and a magazine drum with ammunition in the passenger compartment. Officer Moua removed the handgun and ammunition from the vehicle first and photographed them before returning to the vehicle and removing and photographing the crack cocaine.
Dunn was indicted on five counts as a result of the firearms and cocaine that were found in each of the two incidents. Dunn sought to have the evidence suppressed, claiming that the warrantless searches and seizures on both occasions were unlawful. The Eighth Circuit disagreed, holding that during the first encounter, the officers lawfully impounded the vehicle and inventoried it pursuant to department policy.
“Here, it is undisputed that Minneapolis Police Department policy allows officers to tow and impound a vehicle that is impeding traffic when the owner cannot immediately remove the vehicle on his own. It is also undisputed that officers must conduct an inventory search before impounding a car.”
The court went on to hold that in the second encounter, probable cause was established when the officer plainly saw the cocaine in the car through the window. Since the traffic stop was valid, this probable cause led to the lawful warrantless entry into the car under the Automobile Exception and the warrantless seizure of the cocaine and firearms under the plain view seizure doctrine.
“As long as the law enforcement officials have probable cause, they may search an automobile without a warrant under the automobile exception. … If an officer views contraband in plain sight through an automobile’s window, he has probable cause to search that vehicle.”
To read or download the full decision CLICK HERE