5th Cir. – consent to search auto pursuant to claim of lawful authority

United States v. Guzman – Guzman pleaded guilty to felon in possession but only after reserving right to appeal search of car.  Guzman was arrested after officers got a tip that meth was being sold from a certain house.  Guzman was sitting in the drivers seat of a car parked in the house’s driveway. He got out of the car to talk to the officers who described Guzman as very cooperative. Guzman told them he was just there to visit a friend.  According to the officer, Guzman told them he was just out of prison,  that they could search the car, and that while there were no drugs in the car, there was a gun that belonged to his father in the car.   Guzman moved to suppress the search arguing that he did not consent to the search and that he only admitted the gun was there after cops told him that they were going to search the car.  And, in fact, this version was supported by the recorded interview that occurred just after the “consent” was given in which Guzman  stated “You know, I’m an honest person. . . . That’s why, you know, once you say I’m going to search the car but there is no drugs in the car, and that’s what I told you right off the front, you know there’s a gun in there.”  The district court denied the suppression motion holding  that the officers had probable cause once Guzman admitted there was a gun in the car.  The Fifth Circuit, however, held that if the admission that there was a gun in the car was inadmissible, it may not provide probable cause to search the car.  “[The officer’s] statement that he was ‘going to search the car’, could constitute a false claim of lawful authority affecting the validity of Guzman’s consent and the admissibility of his subsequent statements.”  Under United States v. Morales, 171 F.3d 978, 980 (5th Cir. 1999), consent must be given voluntarily and not simply in acqiescence to a claim of lawful authority.  Since the district court did not make factual findings regarding whether Guzman’s consent was voluntary, the court reversed and remanded. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s