598 F.3d 1259 (11th Cir. 2010), 08-16654, United States v. Davis

Docket Nº:08-16654.
Citation:598 F.3d 1259
Opinion Judge:KRAVITCH, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Willie Gene DAVIS, Defendant-Appellant.
Attorney:William Wayne Whatley, Jr. (Court-Appointed), Montgomery, AL, for Defendant-Appellant. Matthew W. Shepherd, Montgomery, AL, Douglas L. O'Keefe, Miami, FL, for Plaintiff-Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before TJOFLAT, BARKETT and KRAVITCH, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:March 11, 2010
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

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598 F.3d 1259 (11th Cir. 2010)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Willie Gene DAVIS, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 08-16654.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

March 11, 2010

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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William Wayne Whatley, Jr. (Court-Appointed), Montgomery, AL, for Defendant-Appellant.

Matthew W. Shepherd, Montgomery, AL, Douglas L. O'Keefe, Miami, FL, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

Before TJOFLAT, BARKETT and KRAVITCH, Circuit Judges.

KRAVITCH, Circuit Judge:

Police arrested Willie Gene Davis after a traffic stop and searched the car in which he was riding as permitted by our decision in United States v. Gonzalez, 71 F.3d 819, 825 (11th Cir.1996). On evidence obtained from that search, Davis was convicted for the unlawful possession of a firearm. During the pendency of his appeal to this court, the Supreme Court overturned Gonzalez in Arizona v. Gant, __ U.S. __, 129 S.Ct. 1710, 173 L.Ed.2d 485 (2009). We now decide whether the Fourth Amendment's exclusionary rule requires the suppression of evidence obtained from the search.


During a routine traffic stop in 2007, Sergeant Curtis Miller asked Willie Davis, the vehicle's only passenger, for his name. After a pause, Davis identified himself as " Ernest Harris." Miller could smell alcohol on Davis's breath, and he noticed Davis fidgeting with his jacket pockets. When the driver of the vehicle failed her field sobriety tests, Miller asked Davis to step out of the car.

As Davis exited the vehicle, he started to take off his jacket. Miller told him to leave it on, but Davis removed the jacket anyway and left it behind on the seat. Miller checked Davis for weapons and took him to the rear of the vehicle, where he asked a crowd of bystanders whether Davis's name was really Ernest Harris. The bystanders gave Davis's true name, which Miller verified with the police dispatcher, using Davis's birth date.

Miller arrested Davis for giving a false name and placed him, handcuffed, in the back of his patrol car. The driver of the vehicle was also arrested, handcuffed, and placed in a separate patrol car. Once the vehicle's occupants had been secured, Miller searched it and found a revolver in one of Davis's jacket pockets.

After his indictment for possessing a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), Davis filed a motion to suppress the gun. He conceded that our

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precedent required the court to deny his motion, but he moved to preserve the issue for appeal in light of the Supreme Court's grant of certiorari in Arizona v. Gant, 552 U.S. 1230, 128 S.Ct. 1443, 170 L.Ed.2d 274 (2008). The district court denied his motion on the ground that Sergeant Miller had found the gun during a valid search incident to arrest.1 Following a jury trial, Davis was convicted and sentenced to 220 months in prison.


In New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454, 460, 101 S.Ct. 2860, 69 L.Ed.2d 768 (1981), the Supreme Court held " that when a policeman has made a lawful custodial arrest of the occupant of an automobile, he may, as a contemporaneous incident of that arrest, search the passenger compartment of that automobile." In so holding, the Court purported to apply the limiting rationale of its decision in Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 89 S.Ct. 2034, 23 L.Ed.2d 685 (1969), which had " established that a search incident to an arrest may not stray beyond the area within the immediate control of the arrestee." Belton, 453 U.S. at 460, 101 S.Ct. 2860. In its attempt to craft a " workable rule," however, the Court assumed " that articles inside the relatively narrow compass of the passenger compartment of an automobile are in fact generally, even if not inevitably, within ‘ the area into which an arrestee might reach in order to grab a weapon or evidentiary [item].’ " Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Chimel, 395 U.S. at 763, 89 S.Ct. 2034).

We, like most other courts, had read Belton to mean that police could search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant's arrest regardless of the occupant's actual control over the passenger compartment. See, e.g., Gonzalez, 71 F.3d at 825. As the Supreme Court later explained, its opinion in Belton was " widely understood to allow a vehicle search incident to the arrest of a recent occupant even if there [was] no possibility the arrestee could gain access to the vehicle at the time of the search." Gant, 129 S.Ct. at 1718.

In Arizona v. Gant, the Court rejected that prevailing reading of Belton : " We now know that articles inside the passenger compartment are rarely within the area into which an arrestee might reach, and blind adherence to Belton's faulty assumption would authorize myriad unconstitutional searches." 129 S.Ct. at 1723 (quotation marks and citation omitted). The Court replaced our interpretation of Belton with the following rule: " Police may search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant's arrest only if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest." Id.

Davis now relies on Gant to argue that the search after his arrest violated the Fourth Amendment and, therefore, that the gun recovered from his jacket should have been suppressed. The government responds that we should not retroactively apply the exclusionary rule to searches conducted in good-faith reliance on our precedent.

The retroactivity of a constitutional decision and the scope of the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule are questions of law that we review de novo. Glock v. Singletary, 65 F.3d 878, 882 (11th Cir.1995); United States v. Martin, 297 F.3d 1308, 1312 (11th Cir.2002).

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Although the Supreme Court's retroactivity doctrine has a complicated history, see United States v. Johnson, 457 U.S. 537, 542-48, 102 S.Ct. 2579, 73 L.Ed.2d 202 (1982), it is now settled that " a decision of [the Supreme] Court construing the Fourth Amendment is to be applied retroactively to all convictions that were not yet final at the time the decision was rendered," id. at 562, 102 S.Ct. 2579, " with no exception for cases in which the new rule constitutes a ‘ clear break’ with the past," Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314, 328, 107 S.Ct. 708, 93 L.Ed.2d 649 (1987).2 Accord Glazner v. Glazner, 347 F.3d 1212, 1217 (11th Cir.2003) (" [F]or newly announced rules governing criminal prosecutions, the Supreme Court has completely rejected both pure prospectivity, which occurs where a court gives a newly announced rule no retroactive effect, and modified prospectivity, which occurs where a court applies a newly announced rule retroactively on a case by case basis." ). Because Davis's case was pending on direct appeal when Gant was decided, the rule announced in that decision applies to his case.

There can be no serious dispute that the search here violated Davis's Fourth Amendment rights as defined in Gant. First, both he and the car's driver had been handcuffed and secured in separate police cruisers before Sergeant Miller performed the search. Second, Davis was arrested for " an offense for which police could not expect to find evidence in the passenger compartment," Gant, 129 S.Ct. at 1719, because...

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