United States v. Morris, 043021 FED8, 20-2298

Docket Nº20-2298
Opinion JudgeWOLLMAN, Circuit Judge
Party NameUnited States of America Plaintiff- Appellee v. Dennie Morris Defendant-Appellant
Judge PanelBefore SMITH, Chief Judge, WOLLMAN and STRAS, Circuit Judges.
Case DateApril 30, 2021
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee


Dennie Morris Defendant-Appellant

No. 20-2298

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 30, 2021

Submitted: February 19, 2021

Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas - Hot Springs

Before SMITH, Chief Judge, WOLLMAN and STRAS, Circuit Judges.

WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge

Dennie Morris entered a conditional guilty plea to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B)(viii). He now appeals the district court's1 denial of his motion to suppress evidence. We affirm.

Deputy Justin Parker of the Garland County, Arkansas Sheriff's Office initiated a speeding-violation traffic stop of Morris's pickup truck on August 21, 2017. Morris lacked identification but supplied his name to Deputy Parker, who subsequently discovered a valid outstanding warrant for Morris's arrest. Deputy Parker then placed Morris under arrest and asked if he had a preferred towing service to transport his vehicle. Morris responded that he preferred Martin's Towing, which dispatch successfully contacted and directed to the vehicle's location.

As he was patting Morris down before placing him in the back of the patrol car, Deputy Parker found a large sum of money-consisting of $20- and $100-dollar bills-in Morris's front pocket. At Morris's request, Deputy Parker retrieved a cell phone and some additional cash from the pickup's front seat. Deputy Parker then conducted a warrantless search of the vehicle, during which he discovered under the front seat a drawstring bag containing a digital scale, bundles of one-dollar bills, and a plastic bag containing methamphetamine, whereupon he called the Drug Task Force, which directed that the vehicle be towed by Martin's and placed under hold at Martin's lot. After being advised of his Miranda rights at the Garland County Detention Center, Morris made incriminating statements while being interviewed by a Task Force agent.

Morris moved to suppress on constitutional grounds both the evidence discovered during the vehicle search and the later statements made to the Task Force agent. At the suppression hearing, the government introduced the Garland County Sheriff's Office's Vehicle Tow and Wrecker Service Policy, which sets forth the office's "policy guidelines regarding the towing of vehicles taken into custody or otherwise under legal control by employees of this [d]epartment." The policy provides that an officer will conduct a vehicle inventory when the driver is arrested and the officer takes control of the vehicle and tows it. The policy also requires that when a vehicle is towed at an officer's direction, the officer complete inventory and tow reports. The government did not introduce evidence that Deputy Parker had completed either report, but it did offer into evidence an "auto storage report" and the tow receipt. The district court found that the auto storage report "fail[ed] to strictly follow the [Garland County Sheriff's Office's] policies regarding the information that must be included in the towing and inventory reports." D. Ct. Order of Aug. 6, 2019, at 9. It nevertheless denied Morris's motion, concluding that, under the totality of the circumstances, Deputy Parker's inventory search was reasonable and had been conducted in good faith. Id. at 10.

"In reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress, we review the district court's findings of fact for clear error and its legal conclusions de novo." United States v. Woods, 829 F.3d 675, 678 (8th Cir. 2016). The Fourth Amendment's protection from unreasonable search and seizure extends to automobiles. South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364, 367 (1976). "[S]earches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment-subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions." United States v. Marshall, 986 F.2d 1171, 1173 (8th Cir. 1993)...

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