Monday, March 19, 2007

Fourth Circuit issues search and siezure opinion

In United States v. Seldon, mechanics at a car dealership called police when they discovered two secret compartments in a mini van. The mechanics gave the police information about the owner of the vehicle. Some time later, the same police officer who had talked with the mechanics pulled the mini van over because it was speeding. The officer noticed a strong smell of air freshener, that Seldon would not make eye contact, and that Seldon had a large wad of cash. Drugs were discovered in the compartments and Seldon was arrested.

Seldon moved to suppress all seized evidence that had resulted from the search, contending that the dealership search had been unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment, and that the cop would have lacked probable cause for the second search had he not learned of Seldon’s hidden compartments in the course of his earlier unlawful search. The district court declined to suppress the evidence and the Fourth Circuit affirmed. Because the officer learned about the compartments from an independent source--the mechanics--he could lawfully rely on that knowledge in deciding to conduct the second search.

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