Week Sixteen

Week of April 17, 2017 through April 21, 2017

U.S. v. Raymond Surratt, Jr. (published order 4/21/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that an appeal challenging the President’s commutation of a criminal sentence was moot since a presidentially commuted sentence is not judicially reviewable. The court dismissed the appeal. Full Opinion

Fleur Bresler v. Wilmington Trust Company (Keenan 4/20/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting an expert’s testimony and rejecting the defendant’s Daubert challenge, and that the jury’s consequential damages award was proper. Consequently, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment. Full Opinion

U.S. v. Raymond Bullette, III (Duncan 4/20/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that the warrantless search of a vehicle was constitutional on the basis of the inevitable discovery doctrine. The court found that the government met its burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence by showing the evidence would inevitably be discovered during an inventory search, thus allowing the government to use evidence recovered from an otherwise unreasonable search.  The court affirmed the district court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress. Full Opinion

The State of North Carolina v. Alcoa Power Generating, Inc. (Niemeyer 4/18/2017): The Fourth Circuit amended its opinion from April 3, 2017, in which it held that Alcoa had good title to a section of the Yadkin River since it was not navigable at the establishment of North Carolina’s statehood. The court agreed with the district court’s finding that Alcoa successfully proved its title to 99% of the relevant riverbed segment under North Carolina’s Marketable Title Act and to the other 1% under the doctrine of adverse possession. The court affirmed the district court’s finding. Full Opinion

G. G. v. Gloucester County School Board (published order 4/18/2017): The Fourth Circuit amended its order from April 7, 2017, which vacated the preliminary injunction entered by the district court on June 23, 2016, to correct a spelling error. The preliminary injunction halted a school board’s bathroom policy that prohibited G.G., a transgender student, from using the high school restroom corresponding to the gender with which the student identified. Upon remand from the United States Supreme Court, the motion to vacate was unopposed and the court vacated the preliminary injunction. Full Opinion

 

Highlight Case

U.S. v. Raymond Bullette, III, No. 15-4408

Decided: April 20, 2017

The Fourth Circuit held that the warrantless search of a vehicle was constitutional on the basis of the inevitable discovery doctrine.  The court found that the government met its burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence by showing the evidence would inevitably be discovered during an inventory search, thus allowing the government to use evidence recovered from an otherwise unreasonable search.

Amid an investigation into a Phencyclidine (“PCP”) drug manufacturing and distribution conspiracy based in California, a DEA agent and his team, collaborating with local sheriff’s deputies, responded to a neighbor’s report of suspicious activity on property that was suspected as a site for PCP manufacturing. Three vehicles were parked on the property, which appeared to be abandoned. The DEA agent and his team searched all three vehicles. In one vehicle, evidence was found that linked the defendant to the vehicle and the drug conspiracy. The district court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence, concluding that the warrantless search was reasonable because it was necessary for officer safety, and law enforcement would have inevitably discovered the contents upon impounding the car and conducting an inventory search. The defendant was ultimately convicted, and he timely appealed.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress. The Fourth Circuit did not reach the question of whether the automobile exception or the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement applied because the court affirmed based on the inevitable discovery doctrine. The court found that the circumstances surrounding the DEA agents at the crime scene and testimony given supported a finding that the impoundment was a reasonable course of action. Furthermore, the court found that the government did not have to provide a written inventory policy to prove that the law enforcement agency conducted its inventory searches according to routine and standard procedures, and the district court had sufficient evidence to ensure that the practice conformed to precedent. The court held that the government met its burden of proof under the inevitable discovery doctrine.

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

Full Opinion

Kayla M. A. Culver