U.S. v. PATIUTKA, NO. 14-4932

Decided: October 23, 2015

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

The district court rejected all of the Government’s contentions that that the evidence was admissible under Fourth Amendment exceptions, granted the defendant’s motion to suppress, and the Government appealed.

After determining that the standard of review on a motion to suppress was de novo, and then examined the two exceptions to the warrant requirement that the Government set forth. The first exception that the Government contends applied was that the search was incident to Patiutka’s arrest. Although the Court agreed that a search incident to an arrest may be made under appropriate circumstances, and cited to appropriate case law, in this instance, the Court found that the officers did not have probable cause to arrest Patiutka for any offense after he revoked consent for officers to search his car. The Court pointed to the district court’s findings that Trooper Cox’s testimony regarding probable cause was not held to be creditable, and specifically noted that the video shown at the hearing showed that Cox stopped the search as soon as Patiutka objected, which indicated that the search was purely consent-based. Therefore, because Trooper Cox did not have probable cause to arrest Patiutka, the search incident to arrest exception was inapplicable.

As to the Government’s second argument, that the search was valid under the automobile exception, the Court again found that this argument was without merit. After carefully setting forth the automobile exception rule, as well as the probable cause definition, the Court then delineated the facts that the district court used in making its determination, and agreed with the district court that those facts did not provide an adequate objective basis for finding probable cause to search an automobile. Because the Court found that there were legitimate, law-abiding reasons for Patiutka to have had credit card readers, iPads, and suitcases in his car, and that at best Trooper Moore potentially had a “reasonable articulable suspicion” that should have resulted in further questioning, the automobile exception did not apply.

Although the Government attempted to argue that the “collective-knowledge doctrine” should impute Trooper Cox’s suspicion about Patiutka’s identification to Trooper Moore, the Court agreed with the district court that the doctrine did not apply, albeit for a slightly different reason. The Court found that because Trooper Cox had no probable cause to “communicate to a fellow officer,” and that Trooper Moore continued the search even though Trooper Cox had halted the search, the collective knowledge doctrine was insufficient to provide probable cause. For those reasons, the Fourth Circuit held that neither of the exceptions applied and affirmed the district court’s grant of Patiutka’s motion to suppress.

Full Opinion

Jennie Rischbieter

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