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United States v. Cooper

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

May 1, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL JAMES COOPER, Defendant.

          ORDER

          John C. Coughenour UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's motion to suppress evidence regarding count 2 of the indictment (Dkt. No. 21). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds that neither an evidentiary hearing nor oral argument would aid it in reaching a ruling[1] and hereby DENIES the motion for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant Michael Cooper (“Cooper”) is charged by indictment with three counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. (Dkt. No. 1.) Each count arises from a different contact Cooper had with law enforcement in 2017. (See generally id.) In this motion, Cooper asks the Court to suppress evidence that relates only to the facts alleged in count 2 of the indictment.[2]

         On the morning of May 10, 2017, Renton Police Officers Randy Jensen and Matthew Nugent were dispatched to conduct a welfare check outside of a 7-11 convenience store. (Dkt No. 31-7 at 13.) Someone had called 911 to report that a man was either sleeping or passed out in the driver's seat of a Ford Edge that had been parked in front of the 7-11 for at least two hours. (Id.) The Officers also learned that the Ford had been reported stolen six days earlier. (Id.)

         When the Officers arrived, they found Cooper, shirtless, asleep behind the wheel of the car. (Id.) Because the car was reported stolen, the Officers used their PA system to direct Cooper to get out with his hands up. (Id.) Officer Jensen detained Cooper without incident, while Officer Nugent confirmed with dispatch that the reporting police agency still believed the car to be stolen. (Id. at 13, 18.) The car was confirmed stolen as part of a residential burglary the week before. (Id. at 18.) Officer Jensen arrested Cooper on suspicion of possession of a stolen vehicle. (Id. at 13.)

         The Officers also learned through dispatch that the car's registered owners had recently passed away, and the current owner was the executor of their estate, Joan Matheson. (Id.) Officer Jensen called Mattheson to see if she would consent to a search of the car and whether she wanted the car impounded. (Dkt. No. 33[3] at 31:20.) Matheson explained that she was the court-appointed executor of the estate and was responsible for the car. (Id. at 32:50.) Mattheson told Officer Jensen that she had gone to the owners' residence the week before and discovered that the car, along with its keys and several other items[4], had been stolen from the house. (Id. at 33:10-34:20.) Matheson subsequently reported the burglary and stolen car to the local police department. (Id.) Mattheson gave Officer Jensen consent to search the vehicle. (Id. at 38:35- 39:30.) (Mattheson: “I have no reason to restrict you at all from looking in the car. Any part of the car is fine.”)

         After Officer Jensen finished speaking with Mattheson, Cooper told him that he was not aware the car was stolen and that he had bought the car off of Craigslist. (Id. at 26:10-26:30.) Cooper also told Officer Jensen he had the title at his house. (Id. at 44:15-44:25.) Officer Jensen asked Cooper to identify what items in the car were his, so that the police could verify that information with the Mattheson. (Id. at 57:00-57:30.) Officer Jensen asked Cooper if a shirt, jacket, and backpack on the front seat of the car were his. (Id. at 58:10-58:40.) Cooper initially indicated that the shirt and jacket were his but that the backpack was not. (Id. at 58:50-59:10). Moments later, Cooper stated that he was the owner of the car and “everything inside is mine.” (Id.)

         Officer Jensen removed two shirts and a jacket from inside the car and placed them on the hood. (Id. at 104:00.) He proceeded to search the pockets of the jacket, and found a wallet with several thousand dollars and a plastic baggie of what was later confirmed to be methamphetamine. (Dkt. No. 37-1 at 14.) Officer Jensen subsequently searched the backpack and found two plastic baggies of what was later confirmed to be powder heroin. (Id. at 15.) Cooper was arrested for possession of a controlled substance. (Id.)

         In this motion, Cooper asks the Court to suppress all of the evidence obtained by Officer Jensen during his search of the jacket and backpack. (Dkt. No. 21 at 13.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         Cooper's primary argument is that Officer Jensen's search of his jacket exceeded the scope of his consent. (Id. at 1.) Additionally, he asserts that the search of his backpack was not a lawful search incident to arrest, and even if it were, “was fruit of the poisonous tree” based on the illegal search of his jacket. (Id.) The Government counters that Officer Jensen's search of the jacket and backpack were lawful for several reasons. First, Mattheson confirmed the car was recently stolen as part of a burglary, which provided the police with probable cause to search the car for evidence of the reported crime. Second, Mattheson, as the lawful owner of the car, gave Officer Jensen consent for the search. Third, Cooper impliedly consented to the search of his jacket. Finally, the officers would have inevitably discovered the drugs when they conducted a search of the car before returning it to Mattheson. (Dkt. No. 31 at 11-12.) The Court need not reach the issue of Cooper's consent to search because Officer Jensen had probable cause to believe the car contained evidence of a crime.

         “[P]olice may conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle if there is probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime.” United States v. Brooks, 610 F.3d 1186, 1193 (9th Cir. 2010). Under the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment, if police have probable cause to believe a vehicle contains evidence of criminal activity, they are authorized to search any area of the vehicle in which the evidence might be found. United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 820-21 (1982). The scope of the exception has been applied broadly and allows police to search “all containers within a car, without qualification as to ownership.” Wyoming v. Houghton, 526 U.S. 295, 301 (1999) (citing California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. 565, 572 (1991)). “When there is probable cause to search for contraband in a car, it is reasonable for police officers . . . to examine packages and containers without a showing of individualized probable cause for each one.” Id. at 302. There is probable cause for a search where, in light of the totality of the circumstances, there is “a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.” United States v. Pinela-Hernandez, 262 F.3d 974, 978 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted).

         In this case, Officer Jensen had probable cause to believe the car Cooper was in, and the items inside it, contained evidence of a crime. Officer Jensen confirmed with Mattheson that the car had been stolen less than a week before. (Dkt. No. 33 at 33:10-34:20.) Mattheson told Officer Jensen that the car and several other items had been stolen as part of a residential burglary. (Id.) Mattheson said that the burglars had taken cash, coins, a T.V., a “Chinese box, ” and the car keys. (Id. at 33:45-34:20.) Cooper could not provide any documentation that he owned or had recently purchased the car. (Dkt. No. 37-1 at 13-14.) When Officer Jensen asked Cooper which of the items in the car were his, Cooper gave equivocal responses and initially said the backpack was not his. (Id. at 58:10-59:10.) Based on this ...


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