United States District Court, W.D. Washington
C. Coughenour UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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 and hereby DENIES the motion for the
reasons explained herein.
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
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.
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.)
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 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, 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.”)
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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).
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