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United States v. Woodard

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

September 20, 2019




         On January 7, 2019, this Court denied the Motion to Suppress Evidence [Doc. 13] of defendant Evan Jamon Woodard on the record. [Doc. 22]. In order to memorialize the court’s decision, the court enters the following opinion and order.

         I. Background

         On May 12, 2018');">18, two Tulsa Police Department (“TPD”) officers responded to a call in North Tulsa from defendant’s ex-girlfriend (Ms. Quanita Landrum) alleging the defendant had violated a protective order.[1] Upon arrival, the TPD officers learned that the protective order had not been served on defendant and defendant was no longer on the premises. TPD officers told Ms. Landrum that they would search the area for the defendant to serve him with the protective order. Ms. Landrum described the car defendant was driving and indicated the direction he had gone. One of the officers ran a records check on the defendant and discovered that he had an active misdemeanor warrant for public intoxication.

         While patrolling the area, the officers spotted defendant’s car and activated their lights to pull him over. Defendant continued driving for approximately 10 seconds, pulling off into a QuikTrip parking lot. The officers followed defendant into the parking lot, initiated the traffic stop, and placed defendant under arrest for the outstanding warrant. At some point during or soon following the arrest, two additional TPD officers arrived.

         After the defendant was placed under arrest for the outstanding misdemeanor warrant, the TPD officers decided to impound the car defendant was driving and conduct an inventory search. TPD officers found a black bag containing marijuana and a white powdery substance that later tested presumptively positive for cocaine. TPD officers also found a small digital scale and a loaded pistol in a partially open backpack. TPD officers proceeded to ask defendant if he had any prior felony convictions, which defendant admitted to. At that point, a TPD officer read the defendant his Miranda rights. At no point during the arrest did defendant admit that the car was his, nor did the TPD officers discover evidence of car insurance.

         Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence from the warrantless inventory search of his car on October 11, 2018');">18. [Doc. 13]. The government responded on November 15, 2018');">18. [Doc. 18');">18]. The court heard testimony and oral argument on the matter on November 26, 2018');">18 [see Doc. 48] and January 7, 2019 [see Doc. 49');">49]. Upon consideration of the parties’ briefing, argument of counsel, and testimony presented, the court concluded that the motion should be denied. [Doc. 49');">49, p. 73]. Accordingly, the court denied the motion on the record. [Id., pp. 73-74].

         II. Analysis

         Inventory searches are a well-recognized exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U.S. 367, 371 (1987) (upholding inventory search of closed containers before vehicle impoundment).[2] However, the Fourth Amendment still requires that the inventory search be “reasonable.” Id. The issue in this case was whether the impoundment-and related inventory search-was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, especially given that the vehicle was parked on private property belonging to QuikTrip.

         The Tenth Circuit has held “impoundment of a vehicle located on private property that is neither obstructing traffic nor creating an imminent threat to public safety is constitutional only if justified by both standardized criteria and a reasonable, non-pretextual community-caretaking rationale.” United States v. Sanders, 796 F.3d 1241, 1248 (10th Cir. 2015). The government argued that the impoundment here was constitutional, despite the car not impeding traffic or impairing public safety, because it was conducted pursuant to (1) a standardized policy and (2) a reasonable, non-pretextual community-caretaking rationale. [Doc. 18');">18, pp. 6-7]. This court agreed.

         First, the impoundment was conducted pursuant to standardized criteria.[3] TPD policy on impounding vehicles provides:

Officers will impound vehicles only when necessary. Officers are authorized to move or cause to be removed any vehicle from a street, highway, shoulder, or other public way to the nearest garage designated or maintained by the City of Tulsa that meets the criteria for vehicle impoundment. State statute prohibits officers from using the insurance database as the primary reason for a traffic stop. Officers shall use discretion when impounding vehicles based on the lack of compulsory insurance.

Tulsa Police Dep’t, Proc. File No. 31-112G, Procedure re: Impounding Vehicles, General (2018');">18).[4] Procedure 1(b) further specifies that “Officers may impound vehicles” when

A vehicle has been abandoned or the driver was arrested and the vehicle is left unattended in a location that would constitute a traffic hazard or is highly susceptible to damage or vandalism. This includes private property open to the public when the offense ...

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