Moya v. U.S.

Decision Date21 September 1984
Docket NumberNo. 81-2225,81-2225
Citation761 F.2d 322
PartiesCesar MOYA, Defendant-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

L. Mark Dachs, Miami, Fla., Steven B. Muslin, Steven B. Muslin, Ltd., Chicago, Ill., for defendant-appellant.

Ann C. Williams, Asst. U.S. Atty., Dan K. Webb, U.S. Atty., Chicago, Ill., for plaintiff-appellee.

Before CUDAHY and COFFEY, Circuit Judges, and SWYGERT, Senior Circuit Judge.

SWYGERT, Senior Circuit Judge.

Cesar Moya was convicted in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. Sec. 841(a)(1). United States v. Moya, 561 F.Supp. 1 (N.D.Ill.1981), aff'd, 704 F.2d 337 (7th Cir.), vacated and remanded, --- U.S. ----, 104 S.Ct. 418, 78 L.Ed.2d 355 (1983). The district judge refused to suppress the evidence obtained from searching Moya's shoulder bag--501.77 grams of 35% cocaine--as "fruit of the poisonous tree." Id. at 3 (quoting Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 83 S.Ct. 407, 9 L.Ed.2d 441 (1963)). He concluded that the law enforcement officers had reasonable suspicion that Moya was carrying contraband and that therefore they were justified in detaining Moya's shoulder bag for three hours before obtaining a valid search warrant and conducting a dog-sniff test.

The district judge's conclusion was based on the following facts. After deplaning, Moya surveyed the crowd, then walked toward the main terminal, periodically looking back over his shoulder as if trying to detect whether he was being followed. He entered a stall in a men's room and remained there for a few minutes without using the facilities. Although his only luggage was a shoulder bag, he hurriedly left the main terminal and did not go to the baggage claim area. When questioned by the law enforcement officers, Moya was hesitant to offer any identification. Finally, as he was reaching into the side pocket of his shoulder bag for identification, Moya exposed a corner of a clear plastic bag. Whey Moya was asked about the plastic bag, he denied that it existed. 561 F.Supp. at 11. Ultimately, Moya produced the plastic bag containing drug paraphernalia after one of the officers threatened to forceably remove it from Moya's shoulder bag. But in his determination of reasonable suspicion, the district judge specifically refused to consider the drug paraphernalia found in the clear plastic bag because he found that evidence to be the result of an "unconstitutional, warrantless search." 561 F.Supp. at 9.

On appeal, a majority of this court affirmed. United States v. Moya, 704 F.2d 337 (7th Cir.), vacated and remanded, --- U.S. ----, 104 S.Ct. 418, 78 L.Ed.2d 355 (1983). We agreed with the district judge that the evidence, excluding the contraband found in the clear plastic bag, supported a finding of reasonable suspicion. Id. at 343.

The Supreme Court vacated and remanded our decision for further consideration in light of United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 103 S.Ct. 2637, 77 L.Ed.2d 110 (1983). In Place, the Court held that a ninety-minute detention of luggage while awaiting the arrival of a trained narcotics detecting dog based upon less than probable cause violated the fourth amendment. Id. at 2645-46.

This court then sought additional briefing from the parties on the following points:

(1) Whether there was probable cause for the seizure of Moya's shoulder bag?

(2) Whether there was any legal justification for the warrantless seizure of the clear plastic bag from Moya's shoulder bag, in particular whether the plastic bag fit within the "plain view" exception to the warrant clause?

(3) Whether the three hour detention of Moya's shoulder bag could be persuasively distinguished from the ninety-minute detention that occurred in Place?

We now hold that the facts on which the district court based its finding of reasonable suspicion do not support a finding of probable cause 1 and that the district court was correct in finding that the seizure of the plastic bag was unconstitutional, so that its contents cannot be considered in the determination of probable cause.


The implications for personal privacy resulting from a finding of probable cause require that the standard be rigorously enforced. Probable cause requires sufficient evidence to lead a reasonable and prudent person to believe, not merely suspect, that a crime has been or is being committed. Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 175-76, 69 S.Ct. 1302, 1310-11, 93 L.Ed. 1879 (1949). We must be especially cautious when the evidence that is alleged to establish probable cause is entirely consistent with innocent behavior. See Reid v. Georgia, 448 U.S. 438, 441, 100 S.Ct. 2752, 2754, 65 L.Ed.2d 890 (1980) (per curiam); United States v. Saperstein, 723 F.2d 1221, 1229 (6th Cir.1983). We find that the evidence available to the officers in this case was insufficient to lead a reasonable person to believe that a crime was being committed.

It is clear that the officers did not have probable cause at the time that they approached Moya in the taxicab line outside the airport. At that time the officers knew that Moya was arriving from Miami, had only carry-on luggage, scanned the crowd repeatedly, looked back over his shoulder, and "sought the privacy of a washroom stall for some reason other than a desire to relieve himself." Moya, 561 F.Supp. at 4. Indeed, this information was insufficient to establish even reasonable grounds for suspecting that Moya was carrying contraband. Id.; see Reid, 448 U.S. at 441, 100 S.Ct. at 2754 (reasonable suspicion not established by observations that suspects deplaned from a principal place of origin of cocaine for distribution, arrived in the early morning when law enforcement activity is diminished, carried only shoulder bags, and attempted to conceal the fact that they were traveling together).

After being approached in the taxicab line, four events occurred that the district court found sufficient to give rise to reasonable suspicion. First, when asked for identification Moya responded that he had none. Then, when asked again for identification once inside the terminal, Moya proceeded to produce a driver's license from his shoulder bag. Third, while reaching into the bag, Moya exposed the corner of a clear plastic bag. Finally, when asked to produce the plastic bag, Moya responded that no plastic bag existed. See Moya, 561 F.Supp. at 8. These four events were not sufficient to give rise to probable cause.

Probable cause is not established either by failing to present identification upon request by a law enforcement officer, see Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 52, 99 S.Ct. 2637, 2641, 61 L.Ed.2d 357 (1979); United States v. Brown, 731 F.2d 1491, 1494 modified on other grounds, 743 F.2d 1505 (11th Cir.1984), or by carrying a plastic bag in one's travel luggage, see infra at 326. The only question presented by the instant case is whether Moya's false responses to the officers concerning identification and the plastic bag gave the officers probable cause to believe he was engaged in criminal activity. There are several innocent explanations for a lack of forthrightness with law enforcement officers. A person could simply be mistaken or have forgotten; this explanation appears particularly plausible if one considers the stress that someone might reasonably feel when subjected to police questioning. Alternatively, a person could be attempting to conceal information that is personal or embarrassing but not criminal, or supplying answers that she or he believes will expedite the questioning process. 2 We conclude that Moya's seeming dishonesty with the officers was insufficient to establish probable cause. See also Place, 103 S.Ct. at 2640, 2644 (no probable cause found although the defendant falsely reported to law enforcement officers that his luggage had already been searched by other officers).


The district court found that the warrantless seizure of the plastic bag containing drug paraphernalia was unconstitutional and excluded the evidence from consideration in determining the reasonableness of the detention of the shoulder bag. See Moya, 561 F.Supp. at 8-9. We agree with the district court (and the government's position at trial) that the search was illegal and the contents must therefore be excluded from our probable cause determination.

The district court correctly concluded that the plain view exception to the warrant clause was inapplicable to the seizure of the plastic bag, see Moya, 561 F.Supp. at 9 n. 6. The plain view doctrine authorizes the warrantless seizure of personal property where the initial intrusion which affords the officers a plain view is lawful, the discovery of the property is inadvertent, and the incriminating nature of the property is "immediately apparent." Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 466, 91 S.Ct. 2022, 2038, 29 L.Ed.2d 564 (1971) (plurality opinion); United States v. McDonald, 723 F.2d 1288, 1295 (7th Cir.1983) cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 104 S.Ct. 2360, 80 L.Ed.2d 831 (1984). The phrase "immediately apparent" does not "imply that an unduly high degree of certainty as to the incriminatory character of evidence is necessary for an application of the 'plain view' doctrine." Texas v. Brown, 460 U.S. 730, 103 S.Ct. 1535, 1542, 75 L.Ed.2d 502 (1983). The character of the property must be such as to give the officers "probable cause to associate the property with criminal activity." Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 587, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 1380, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980); see Brown, 103 S.Ct. at 1542.

There is nothing apparently incriminating about a plastic bag. Plastic bags are used by travelers for a variety of innocent purposes. Bags are used, for example, to carry wet items, to contain items that may spill, and to keep items sanitary. The exposure of the corner of the clear plastic bag did not...

To continue reading

Request your trial
34 cases
  • U.S. v. Jerez
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • May 19, 1997
    ...generally to innocent travelers); United States v. McCarthur, 6 F.3d 1270, 1278 & n. 3 (7th Cir.1993) (same); Moya v. United States, 761 F.2d 322, 325 (7th Cir.1984) ("We must be especially cautious when the evidence that is alleged to establish probable cause is entirely consistent with in......
  • United States v. Williams
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Illinois
    • February 9, 2015
    ...requirement would have little meaning in investigating drug crimes) (internal quotation and citation omitted); Moya v. United States, 761 F.2d 322, 325 (7th Cir.1984) (“We must be especially cautious when the evidence that is alleged to establish probable cause is entirely consistent with i......
  • U.S. v. $191,910.00 in U.S. Currency
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • February 18, 1994
    ...sufficient. Several circuits have found a lack of diligence on facts very similar to those in the present case. See Moya v. United States, 761 F.2d 322, 326-27 (7th Cir.1984) (invalidating three-hour detention of bag prior to dog sniff where officers were stationed at the airport specifical......
  • U.S. v. Boden
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • August 10, 1988
    ...this sales book was lawful under the plain view exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. See, e.g., Moya v. United States, 761 F.2d 322, 326 (7th Cir.1984). Second, a warrantless search of the entire car and inside the boxes was properly conducted under the "auto exception" ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT