Law School Case Brief
United States v. DeBardeleben - 740 F.2d 440 (6th Cir. 1984)
The insertion of the key into the door of the vehicle is a minimal intrusion, and if justified by founded suspicion and in furtherance of the legitimate interests of proper crime investigation, does not constitute a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.
Secret Service Agent Jones Allison placed defendant James DeBardeleben under arrest after DeBardeleben had passed counterfeit $20 bills at a mall store. He gave the car keys he found in DeBardeleben’s possession to Secret Service Agent James Burch, who reasoned that if defendant DeBardeleben had a car it would probably be on the east side of the mall where defendant had originally headed after the book purchase. Burch went to the mall parking area near the east exit that night after the mall had closed and observed three parked cars. Agent Burch took one of the keys and inserted it on one of the parked cars – the key operated the door lock, whereupon Burch relocked the door, without ever opening it. Burch then fit the other key into the trunk of the Chrysler. This caused the trunk lid to spring open and a trunk light to turn on. Burch then observed what appeared to be a blue bag; but he closed the trunk without examining its content or any other item in the trunk. Burch and other agents then applied to the United States Magistrate for a federal search warrant, which issued the next morning. During the search under the warrant of the passenger compartment of the Chrysler, Allison found over two hundred $20 counterfeit bills, among others. The trial court admitted the seized items as evidence, and was subsequently convicted of the crime of counterfeiting and carrying a firearm during the commission of that offense in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 472 and § 924(c)(2), respectively. Defendant DeBardeleben appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained under a warrant.
Were the evidence obtained pursuant to the Secret Service Agent’s search of defendant’s car trunk admissible against the defendant?
The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the convictions and found that the district court did not err in admitting evidence obtained from a search of the defendant's car pursuant to a warrant because the police did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they used the keys found in defendant's pocket at the time of his arrest to identify his car. According to the Court, the use of DeBardeleben's keys to lock and unlock the door and trunk of the car suspected of belonging to defendant was not an illegal invasion of defendant's privacy because police had a legitimate reason for testing the keys, identification of the vehicle, the police went no farther than testing the keys until they got a warrant, and defendant did not have an expectation of privacy in the identity of his car.
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