13 F.3d 498 (1st Cir. 1994), 93-1175, United States v. Infante-Ruiz

Docket Nº:93-1175.
Citation:13 F.3d 498
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Pedro INFANTE-RUIZ, Defendant, Appellant.
Case Date:January 25, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Page 498

13 F.3d 498 (1st Cir. 1994)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,


Pedro INFANTE-RUIZ, Defendant, Appellant.

No. 93-1175.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

January 25, 1994

Heard Sept. 10, 1993.

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Laura Maldonado Rodriguez, Asst. Federal Public Defender, with whom Benicio Sanchez Rivera, Federal Public Defender, was on brief, for defendant-appellant.

Jose A. Quiles-Espinosa, Sr. Litigation Counsel, with whom Charles E. Fitzwilliam, U.S. Atty., was on brief, for U.S.

Before STAHL, Circuit Judge, ALDRICH and CAMPBELL, Senior Circuit Judges.

LEVIN H. CAMPBELL, Senior Circuit Judge.

Defendant-appellant Pedro Infante Ruiz was indicted in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico for having knowingly received while a fugitive from justice a firearm transported in interstate commerce. 18 U.S.C. Secs. 922(g)(2) and 924(a). After the district court denied a motion in limine to suppress evidence, Infante entered a plea of guilty, with his plea being conditioned on the outcome of an appeal of the court's evidentiary ruling. Infante duly appealed, and we now reverse the district court's denial of a motion to suppress and vacate appellant's conviction.


On October 8, 1991, Infante and two associates were driving a rented 1991 Mazda 626 in the vicinity of Parguera, Lajas, Puerto Rico, when they stopped to buy food at a local eatery. Officers of the Puerto Rico police were following the car, looking for an opportunity to arrest Infante on an outstanding warrant from Florida on federal narcotics charges. After the car stopped, the officers surrounded the vehicle and placed Infante under arrest. Infante resisted but was eventually restrained and placed inside a nearby unmarked squad car.

One of the arresting officers, Sergeant David Padilla Velez, asked the driver of the car, a Felipe de la Paz, for consent to search the vehicle. De la Paz verbally gave his consent, and Sgt. Padilla searched the passenger compartment. Sgt. Padilla then asked de la Paz for the key to the car's trunk. Although Sgt. Padilla did not explicitly ask for de la Paz's consent to search the trunk, de la Paz handed over the key to the trunk in response to the request and stood by without objection as the trunk was being searched.

Two briefcases, one brown and one black, were inside the trunk. De la Paz, upon inquiry by Sgt. Padilla, said that he was the owner of the brown briefcase. Sgt. Padilla opened and searched the brown briefcase, apparently without objection by de la Paz.

Sgt. Padilla then asked de la Paz who owned the black briefcase. De la Paz answered that it belonged to Infante. Without expressly asking for de la Paz's consent, but without any express objection from him, Sgt. Padilla then opened the unlocked briefcase belonging to Infante. Inside were various documents belonging to Infante, as well as items belonging to de la Paz and others. Also inside was a loaded .22 caliber Derringer pistol.

Infante was later charged with knowingly receiving while a fugitive from justice a firearm transported in interstate commerce. De

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la Paz and the other passenger were not arrested.

Infante moved to suppress the gun, arguing that it had been seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In an oral ruling, the district court denied the motion to suppress. The defendant later pleaded guilty to the charge, reserving his right to appeal from the court's denial of his motion to suppress. We now hold that the search of Infante's briefcase was unlawful and that the pistol should have been suppressed.


The district court upheld the warrantless search of Infante's briefcase on four grounds: (1) Infante's lack of privacy interest in the suitcase; (2) probable cause; (3) a finding that the weapon would have been inevitably discovered; and (4) the drivers' consent. In reviewing a district court's denial of a suppression motion, we uphold its findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. United States v. Sanchez, 943 F.2d 110, 112 (1st Cir.1991); United States v. Cruz Jimenez, 894 F.2d 1, 7 (1st Cir.1990). The court's ultimate conclusion, however, is subject to plenary review, Sanchez, 943 F.2d at 112; United States v. Curzi, 867 F.2d 36, 42 (1st Cir.1989), as "[f]indings of reasonableness ... are respected only insofar as consistent with federal constitutional guarantees." Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23, 33, 83 S.Ct. 1623, 1630, 10 L.Ed.2d 726 (1963). We will, "where necessary to the determination of constitutional rights, make an independent examination of the facts, the findings, and the record so that [we] can determine for [ourselves] whether in the decision as to reasonableness the fundamental--i.e., constitutional--criteria ... have been respected." Id. at 34, 83 S.Ct. at 1630.

Applying these principles, we discuss in turn each of the grounds for upholding the search offered by the district court.

A. Infante's Privacy Interest in the Briefcase

The district court found that Infante had no privacy interest in the briefcase and concluded that the lack of such an interest provided a sufficient basis to deny the suppression motion. The district court found that Infante had left the unlocked briefcase in the trunk of the Mazda for a period of some days, even when he was not a passenger, and that he allowed de la Paz and others to place possessions of their own inside it. The district court found that the briefcase "was not under the control of the defendant" and that Infante had no Fourth Amendment privacy rights that could have been violated by its search.

While the district court cited no authority, the best analogy we could find for the district court's reasoning is California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35, 108 S.Ct. 1625, 100 L.Ed.2d 30 (1988). There, the police searched without a warrant the contents of garbage bags left at the...

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