632 F.2d 1149 (4th Cir. 1980), 79-5051, United States v. Ramapuram

Docket Nº:79-5051.
Citation:632 F.2d 1149
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Lawrence David RAMAPURAM, Appellant.
Case Date:October 09, 1980
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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632 F.2d 1149 (4th Cir. 1980)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,


Lawrence David RAMAPURAM, Appellant.

No. 79-5051.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

October 9, 1980

Argued July 8, 1980.

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Benjamin Lipsitz, Baltimore, Md., for appellant.

Herbert Better, Asst. U.S. Atty., Baltimore, Md., (Russell T. Baker, Jr., U.S. Atty., Baltimore, Md., on brief), for appellee.

Before BUTZNER, MURNAGHAN and ERVIN, Circuit Judges.

MURNAGHAN, Circuit Judge:

A jury convicted Lawrence David Ramapuram under a one count indictment for violating 18 U.S.C. § 842(h). 1 The charge arose from a theft from a cemetery bunker of fifty pounds of dynamite. The principal issue raised on appeal is whether the district court erred in overruling Ramapuram's motion to suppress evidence allegedly obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures. 2 Ramapuram also seeks reversal on the grounds that the district court erred in its instructions to the jury and in concluding that it had jurisdiction over the case.



Ramapuram, who was seventeen years old at the time, 3 together with a sixteen

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year old associate, Fisher, whose assistance Ramapuram sought and obtained, broke into the concrete cemetery bunker and removed the dynamite (approximately 100 sticks) on December 16, 1975. Cemetery employees discovered the theft a week later, on December 23, 1975, and reported the same to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on December 24, 1975. Agent McMonagle of the ATF began an immediate investigation. The Maryland State Police also investigated the theft.

Recovery of most of the dynamite and Ramapuram's subsequent arrest resulted from a warrantless search and seizure which occurred under the following circumstances. Agent McMonagle received a report on New Year's Eve at or about 3:30 p. m. from a state police detective, Tenny, that Ramapuram and Fisher were responsible for the theft. Tenny received his information from his son, an acquaintance of Ramapuram and of Fisher, who was present near the cemetery on the night of the theft and who, in fact, had observed, with others, Ramapuram and Fisher load the dynamite into Ramapuram's automobile. Detective Tenny also advised McMonagle that, according to the former's son, Ramapuram had expressed the intention to blow up certain public buildings. Later, on December 31, 1975, McMonagle learned that Fisher was in the custody of the Maryland State Police. McMonagle proceeded to the location where Fisher was being held and interviewed him. Sometime between 5:00 p. m. and 6:00 p. m. on the same day, December 31, 1975, Fisher told McMonagle that the dynamite was in the trunk of a Chevrolet automobile which was parked in a field on a farm located in Baltimore County, Maryland, and owned by Ramapuram's father, a medical practitioner. McMonagle, accompanied by another ATF agent and two state police troopers, 4 first went to the Ramapuram home to talk to Ramapuram's father, who, however, was not there. They then proceeded directly to the farm, arriving at or about 6:30 p. m. 5

It was raining and dark as the vehicle containing the agents and troopers left the public road and entered the farm along a narrow private road. The vehicle advanced approximately two hundred yards from the public road whereupon it became mired in the mud. The district court found that the members of McMonagle's party:

left their car and approached a Chevrolet automobile parked in an open area near a fenced paddock at a distance of 150 to 200 feet from the main road.

The Agent observed that the car appeared to have been abandoned, that the license plates had expired, the doors were unlocked, and the trunk lock had been removed. The Agent opened the trunk of the car and found that it contained 88 sticks of dynamite which according to the 'date/shift code' was (sic) part of the dynamite stolen from Woodlawn Cemetery. The officers removed the dynamite from the premises and thereafter turned it over to military personnel to be taken

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to Edgewood Arsenal. The Chevrolet from which the dynamite was removed was titled in the name of the defendant's father but had been owned for the use of the defendant. Patarama Farm on which the Chevrolet was parked was owned by the defendant's father and the father's former wife. Neither the defendant nor his father lived on the farm but both had access to it and used it on occasion.

Dr. Ramapuram testified at the suppression hearing as well as at trial that the fifteen acre farm was used primarily to board and ride horses, by members of the Ramapuram family and others. At trial, he testified that the lone residence located on the farm was under lease to unspecified tenants. The 1964 Chevrolet automobile from which the dynamite was seized was described by the district court based on photos which are a part of the record as a "junker;" it was not the automobile driven by Ramapuram on the night of the theft. 6 Dr. Ramapuram testified that although the "junker" was titled in his name it had been held for use by and used by his son. Dr. Ramapuram could not remember when the "junker" was taken out of service and left on the farm. As the district court found, the "junker" had no current state license tags, the trunk lock assembly had been removed and the doors were unlocked.

It is undisputed that no search warrant was obtained and, indeed, that no effort whatsoever was made to determine the availability of a judge or magistrate to whom application could be made for such warrant. Likewise, it is apparently undisputed, as counsel for Ramapuram conceded at argument, that ample probable cause existed to support a search warrant for the "junker" after the McMonagle-Fisher interview.

At trial, aerial photographs of the pertinent area of the farm, close-up photographs of the "junker" and of the dynamite in the trunk, and McMonagle's testimony concerning the seizure were admitted. Additionally, findings from a chemical analysis of the recovered dynamite and testimony concerning the controlled detonation of the dynamite were admitted.

Over government opposition, the district court concluded that (a) Ramapuram had standing to raise the Fourth Amendment contention; and (b) Ramapuram possessed a reasonable expectation of privacy as to matters stored in the trunk of the "junker". The district court, nevertheless, concluded that the warrantless search of the trunk of the "junker" was justified by exigent circumstances. The district court relied on several cases involving warrantless searches or seizures of explosives and weapons in varying circumstances. 7 There are, however, cases concluding that prosecutorial assertions of exigency were insufficient to excuse compliance with the warrant requirement. 8

Which of the two lines of cases to follow is a far from easy question to resolve. Nothing in the record sufficiently established a high volatility and grave potential of explosion for the dynamite abstracted from the cemetery bunker. Exigency is urged on the idea that, with approximately 100 sticks of dynamite actually in Ramapuram's

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possession, his threats to blow up public buildings made the urgency of a concentrated manhunt very great. However, if it could be established that the dynamite was in the "junker" and, therefore, shielded from Ramapuram by the presence of law enforcement officers, the exigency of the search for him was reduced and might proceed more routinely.

In view of the existence of a more direct and established ground which validates the warrantless search and seizure, we expressly refrain from deciding whether such "exigency once removed" sufficed to render unnecessary a warrant in the present case. We note that United States v. McKinney, 477 F.2d 1184, 1186 (D.C. Cir. 1973), involved "a sawed-off shotgun, an ominous threat in and (of) itself." However, in the present case, the dynamite's risk is not simply inherent, but would depend on the particular destructive intent of Ramapuram. Cf. Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 394, 98 S.Ct. 2408, 2415, 57 L.Ed.2d 290 (1978) ("We decline to hold that the seriousness of the offense under investigation itself creates exigent circumstances of the kind that under the Fourth Amendment justify a warrantless search.").

The alternate ground is our conclusion that Ramapuram had no reasonable expectation of privacy. While warrantless searches and seizures are presumptively unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 514, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967), the thrust of the Fourth Amendment simply does not extend to locations lacking a foundation for reasonably expecting that the materials will be accorded privacy. Exploration by the government although without a warrant of non-private places does not compel the suppression of evidence so obtained. Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 143, 99 S.Ct. 421, 430, 58 L.Ed.2d 387 (1978); id. at 150-56, 99 S.Ct. at 434 (Powell, J., concurring); Rawlings v. Kentucky, --- U.S. ----, 100 S.Ct. 2556, 65 L.Ed.2d 633 (1980).


In Patler v. Slayton, 503 F.2d 472, 477-78 (4th Cir. 1974), a federal habeas corpus attack on a state murder conviction, 9 one issue raised on appeal was the alleged impropriety under the Fourth Amendment of a search of a pasture located on a farm owned by Patler's father-in-law and the seizure therefrom of several spent bullets and shell casings matching the murder weapon. The district court held that in the absence of a reasonable expectation of privacy Patler had no standing and, therefore, could not raise the Fourth Amendment issue on federal habeas corpus. On appeal, this court disagreed with the lower court's determination that Patler lacked standing, relying on United States v. Cobb, 432 F.2d 716 (4th Cir. 1970), and Brown v. United States, 411 U.S. 223, 93 S.Ct. 1565, 36 L.Ed.2d 208 (1973). We...

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