The Court of Appeals in U.S. v. Bumphaus, decided on May 21, 2020, affirmed the trial court in suppressing the evidence obtained through illegal search and seizure.
Based on confidential tip that the defendant possessed illegal weapons, his car was stopped and before the officers had a chance to search the vehicle Bumphus locked the car and released keys to another individual who left the scene.
Thus, the officers towed the vehicle in order to obtain a search warrant to break into the car and search for weapons. The search warrant for the car however was not issued until four days after the car was in fact seized. Once the car was searched, weapons were found and the defendant was charged with illegal possession.
The trial court granted the defendant’s suppression motion holding in short that the prolonged seizure of the car before the search was unreasonable and dismissal of the charges were mandated by the 4th Amendment violations in that:
- Bumphus’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures was violated when the police seized his car and then delayed several days without any legitimate explanation, however small before searching the vehicle, and that
- The suppression of the gun recovered in the eventual search was warranted.
The government appealed the trial decision.
The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court in ruling that even though the MPD had probable cause to stop and search Bumphus’s vehicle, the delay between seizing and searching of the vehicle violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.
Moreover, the Fourth Amendment imposes neither a requirement that searches be conducted contemporaneously with seizures nor a preset outer time limit on conducting constitutional searches — but the delay between the seizure and the search must be reasonable under the circumstances.
The touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonable behavior by the officers under the circumstances. Specifically, because government seizures may deprive a person of a significant possessory interest, seizures that are reasonable at their inception may become unreasonable over time.
In order to determine what constitutes reasonable, there has to be a balancing test of the government’s justification for the prolonged intrusion v. an individual’s possessory interests, and the nature and quality of those interests.
Here, the defendant’s possessory interests were great: his car was an essential means of transportation and going about his daily life, there were also personal items in his car much needed like a cell phone, child’s backpack, and others.
On the other hand, the MPD’s reasoning for delay in obtaining the search warrant was not compelling. Thus, the serious invasion of an individual’s possessory interests here and the unreasonable and inexcusable delay in obtaining the search warrant together necessitated suppressing the evidence as fruit of the poisonous tree in that the weapon found may not be used by the government to prove defendant’s guilt.
Refer to our Washington DC Criminal Lawyer page for more information on this subject matter.