U.S. v. Wilson

Decision Date13 November 1975
Docket NumberNo. 75-1247,75-1247
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Jerry Lee WILSON, Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Philip M. Moomaw, Asst. Federal Public Defender, Springfield, Mo., for appellant.

David H. Jones, Asst. U. S. Atty., Kansas City, Mo., for appellee.

Before VOGEL, Senior Circuit Judge, HEANEY and STEPHENSON, Circuit Judges.

STEPHENSON, Circuit Judge.

The central issue on this appeal is whether the district court 1 erred in overruling appellant's motion to suppress the introduction into evidence at his trial of a sawed-off shotgun which was allegedly obtained as the result of an illegal search and seizure. We find that the search and seizure complained of in the instant case was not unreasonable. Accordingly, we affirm.

On the evening of August 7, 1974 at approximately 11:00 p. m. appellant Jerry Lee Wilson was involved in a traffic accident at an intersection in Springfield, Missouri. The motorcycle which Wilson was operating collided with an automobile. Wilson was thrown from his vehicle onto the street where he lay unconscious with serious physical injuries.

Shortly thereafter, Officer Dan Wilson of the Springfield Police Department arrived at the scene. Both prior to and after the arrival of the ambulance, Officer Wilson participated in administering first aid to appellant. At the request of the ambulance driver the officer took possession of the contents of the injured man's pants' pocket which had to be cut away to allow for the application of a splint. Among the items received by the officer were two small cellophane- wrapped packages of a white powdery substance which the officer judged to be a form of narcotic.

In the course of his subsequent investigation of the accident, Officer Wilson learned from a reliable source 2 that a duffel bag had been removed from the street where the collision had occurred and placed in a nearby parked automobile. The officer located the person who had taken the bag and was told by him that the bag belonged to appellant. Acting pursuant to an established policy of the Springfield Police Department regarding the custody of property belonging to accident victims, the officer requested that the bag be turned over to him for safekeeping. Upon receiving the bag 3 the officer immediately noticed that approximately six inches of what appeared to be a shotgun barrel was protruding from the bag. There was no sight on the end of the barrel. The barrel end was shiny and appeared to have been sawed off. No immediate assessment of the precise barrel length was made. The overall length of the duffel bag was approximately three feet. At the time it was taken into police custody the bag was locked with a padlock. As a result, the gun could not be removed from the bag.

The duffel bag and the items taken from appellant's pockets were subsequently turned over to Officer Asher and locked in his patrol car. Officer Asher, the accident investigator, arrived on the scene as appellant was being loaded into an ambulance. Upon leaving the scene Asher went directly to the hospital and from there to the police station where he then opened the duffel bag. This was at about 1:30 a. m., approximately two hours after Asher had received custody of the bag at the scene of the accident. No search warrant was obtained prior to cutting off the padlock and examining the bag's contents. At that time appellant Wilson had not been arrested. The officer testified that he opened the bag because he believed that it contained a sawed-off shotgun and because he was concerned over the possibility that additional drugs were located therein. No search warrant was obtained because the officer felt that it was unnecessary under the circumstances of the case.

Upon opening the bag the police discovered, among other things, a sawed-off shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches in length. Subsequent checking revealed that the gun was not registered as required by federal statute. Appellant Wilson was subsequently arrested and charged with violating 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d). Prior to his trial he moved for the suppression of the shotgun on the theory that it was obtained as a result of an illegal search and seizure. His motion was overruled by the district court. After his jury trial and conviction, the trial court committed Wilson for a study pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4208(b), final sentence to be imposed upon completion of that study and with the recommendation of the Director of the Bureau of Prisons. This appeal followed.

Two issues are raised on this appeal. Appellant's primary complaint is that the search and seizure of the sawed-off shotgun contained in the padlocked duffel bag was constitutionally invalid and thus the trial court erred in overruling his motion to suppress the receipt of the gun into evidence. We disagree and hold that, under the totality of the circumstances in the instant case, the process through which the police obtained the sawed-off shotgun was not an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the fourth amendment.

It is well established that warrantless searches and seizures are valid under certain exceptional circumstances. See, e. g., United States v. Edwards, 415 U.S. 800, 802, 94 S.Ct. 1234, 39 L.Ed.2d 771 (1974); Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 453-55, 91 S.Ct. 2022, 29 L.Ed.2d 564 (1971). In the instant case the trial court ruled that the warrantless seizure of the sawed-off shotgun fell within the plain view exception to the warrant requirement as articulated in Harris v. United States, 390 U.S. 234, 88 S.Ct. 992, 19 L.Ed.2d 1067 (1968). In Harris the Court explained that:

It has long been settled that objects falling in the plain view of an officer who has a right to be in the position to have that view are subject to seizure and may be introduced in evidence.

390 U.S. at 236, 88 S.Ct. at 993. See also United States v. Story, 463 F.2d 326, 327-28 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 988, 93 S.Ct. 343, 34 L.Ed.2d 254 (1972). A plain view observation is not a search within the meaning of the fourth amendment and thus is not subject to the restrictions attendant to the constitutional provision. United States v. Johnson, 506 F.2d 674, 675 (8th Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 420 U.S. 978, 95 S.Ct. 1579, 43 L.Ed.2d 784 (1975). In order to qualify for inclusion within the plain view exception it must be shown (1) that the initial intrusion which afforded the authorities the "plain view" was lawful; (2) that the discovery of the evidence was inadvertent, and (3) that the incriminating nature of the evidence was "immediately apparent." United States v. Williams, 523 F.2d 64 (8th Cir., 1975). We believe that the facts in the instant case satisfy these tests.

The initial intrusion in the instant case was the act of taking appellant Wilson's possessions into police custody following the accident. It was this effort that brought the protruding shotgun barrel into the plain view of Officer Wilson at the moment that he first received custody of the bag. According to the testimony at trial it was an established police procedure to take custody of an incapacitated accident victim's possessions. While this fact does not immunize the custodial procedures from scrutiny for all purposes, United States v. Lawson, 487 F.2d 468, 474-77 (8th Cir. 1973), we believe that the limited "intrusion" in the present case was a reasonable measure and lawfully placed the police in the position from which they viewed the sawed-off barrel of the shotgun.

Second, it appears from the record that the discovery of the sawed-off shotgun was inadvertent. While the revelation of the two cellophane-wrapped packets from Wilson's pocket no doubt heightened police suspicion regarding Wilson's activities there is no evidence to suggest that they were aware of the shotgun's existence when they attempted to recover the injured man's property at the accident scene. Thus we do not feel that the "plain view" of the shotgun barrel was tainted by any prior knowledge of the gun. Cf. Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 469-71, 91 S.Ct. 2022 (1971).

Finally, we are convinced that the incriminating nature of the evidence seized was immediately apparent here. Despite the fact that the entire gun was not in plain view, the officers testified that they were able to see approximately six inches of a gun barrel which had no sight but that had a shiny end as if it had been sawed off. This was sufficient to justify the warrantless seizure of the duffel bag and the removal of the shotgun from it. It was not necessary for the police officers to know beyond a reasonable doubt that the gun whose barrel protruded from the bag was an illegal sawed-off shotgun. Rather the seizure was proper if the officers had reasonable cause to believe that the article was contraband. Here the record reveals facts which gave the officers probable cause to believe that an illegal sawed-off shotgun was contained within the duffel bag. United States v. Story, 463 F.2d 326, 328 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 988, 93 S.Ct. 343, 34 L.Ed.2d 254 (1972); United States v. Cecil, 457 F.2d 1178, 1180 (8th Cir. 1972). See also United States v. Sedillo, 496 F.2d 151, 153 (9th Cir.) (Hufstedler, J., dissenting), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 947, 95 S.Ct. 211, 42 L.Ed.2d 168 (1974).

Thus we hold that the seizure of the shotgun here was not in violation of appellant Wilson's fourth amendment rights. We place no significance on the fact that the padlock on the duffel bag had to be removed before the shotgun could be fully examined. 4 As noted above, the protruding barrel provided the police with good reason to believe that an illegal shotgun was contained in the bag which was lawfully within police custody. Cutting the padlock to free the gun was no more an unlawful intrusion than reaching inside an automobile to...

To continue reading

Request your trial
31 cases
  • U.S. v. Scios, 75-1619
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • July 27, 1978
    ...v. Coplen, 541 F.2d 211, 214 (9th Cir. 1976), Cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1073, 97 S.Ct. 810, 50 L.Ed.2d 791 (1977); United States v. Wilson, 524 F.2d 595, 598 (8th Cir. 1975), Cert. denied, 424 U.S. 945, 96 S.Ct. 1415, 47 L.Ed.2d 351 (1976); Blassingame v. Estelle, 508 F.2d 668, 669 (5th Cir. 1......
  • State v. Wilson, 26
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • January 24, 1977
    ...United States v. Johnson, 541 F.2d 1311, 1316 (8th Cir. 1976); United States v. Clark, supra, 531 F.2d at 932; United States v. Wilson, 524 F.2d 595, 598 (8th Cir. 1975), cert. denied, 424 U.S. 945, 96 S.Ct. 1415, 47 L.Ed.2d 351 (1976); State v. Keefe,13 Wash.App. 829, 537 P.2d 795, 797 App......
  • People v. Superior Court (Spielman)
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 21, 1980
    ...699, 707, 94 Cal.Rptr. 412, 484 P.2d 24.16 Harris v. United States, supra, 390 U.S. 234, 236, 88 S.Ct. 992, 993; United States v. Wilson (8th Cir.) 524 F.2d 595, 598; United States ex rel. LaBelle v. LaValle (2d Cir.) 517 F.2d 750, 755.17 United States v. Masciarelli (2d Cir.) 558 F.2d 1064......
  • U.S. v. Sanders, 79-1661
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • September 22, 1980
    ..."we have determined that probable cause existed to believe that the purse contained narcotics." Id. at 57. See also United States v. Wilson, 524 F.2d 595 (8th Cir. 1975), cert. denied, 424 U.S. 945, 96 S.Ct. 1415, 47 L.Ed.2d 351 (1976). In the instant case by contrast the majority makes no ......
  • 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