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United States v. Hardy

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 28, 2019




         Defendant Vasily Hardy is charged in one count with being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). He challenges the impoundment of his vehicle and moves to suppress the firearm and ammunition seized during the subsequent inventory search.

         I. Findings of Fact [1]

         On November 14, 2018, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Wellesley Police Officer Travis Dixon (hereafter “Dixon”) observed a vehicle commit a series of traffic violations on Route 9 in Wellesley, Massachusetts. He contacted the Wellesley Police Department ("WPD") to run the license plate and learned that the car was registered to defendant and that defendant's license had been suspended. Dixon activated his police lights and defendant immediately pulled over into a metered parking space on Washington Street in Newton, Massachusetts.

         Dixon approached the vehicle and asked for defendant's identification. The defendant was alone in the car. Dixon then learned via radio dispatch that there was an active warrant for defendant from Lowell District Court. Meanwhile, WPD Officer Matthew Wall (hereafter “Wall”) overheard the radio transmissions regarding the traffic stop and arrived at the scene.

         While defendant waited in his car, the two officers spoke briefly and decided to arrest defendant for the active warrant and for driving with a suspended license. Dixon called for a tow truck to impound defendant's vehicle. The officers arrested defendant and placed him in Wall's police cruiser. Wall drove defendant to the Wellesley Police station while Dixon remained at the scene. From the backseat of the cruiser, defendant asked, “What happens with my vehicle?” Wall replied, “Your vehicle's going to be towed, sir.” The defendant initially said, “Okay, ” but several seconds later asked, “Can you leave my car there so it doesn't have to get towed?” Wall responded, “No sir, we can't, ” and explained that Dixon would complete an inventory search of his vehicle prior to the tow. At no point did defendant suggest the name or availability of another person to take charge of the vehicle.

         During Dixon's subsequent search of the car, he found a Sig Sauer semiautomatic pistol and sixteen rounds of ammunition inside a backpack in the backseat. He filled out the WPD “Motor Vehicle Inventory Form, ” listing these and other items found in the car. See Docket # 36-2. Sergeant Robert Gallagher (hereafter “Gallagher”), the shift supervisor, arrived on the scene where he photographed and collected the pistol and ammunition.

         At the Wellesley Police station, defendant received his Miranda warnings twice, signed a Miranda warnings form, and agreed to speak with Dixon and Sergeant Gallagher. The defendant admitted that the vehicle, firearm, and ammunition were his.

         II. Legal Standard

         “[T]he Constitution permits arresting officers to impound [without a warrant], pursuant to standard procedures, an arrested person's automobile that might otherwise be left abandoned.” United States v. Ramos-Morales, 981 F.2d 625, 627 (1st Cir. 1992). This “community caretaking exception” to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement recognizes law enforcement's responsibility to protect a car from theft and vandalism and to remove vehicles that impede traffic or threaten public safety and convenience. United States v. Coccia, 446 F.3d 233, 238 (1st Cir. 2006).

         The decision to impound an arrestee's car must be reasonable under the circumstances and not driven by investigatory motives. “The reasonableness analysis does not hinge solely on any particular factor, ” but takes into account all of the facts and circumstances. Coccia, 446 F.3d at 239. In particular, courts consider the existence of and adherence to established criteria, such as written policy and/or standard routine. See also United States v. Sanchez, 535 F.Supp.2d 216, 221 (D. Mass. 2008), aff'd, 612 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2010) (“The Supreme Court has emphasized the importance of standardized criteria or established routine ... the latter clause suggesting that the policy need not be in writing”) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         When a vehicle is properly impounded, the police may conduct a warrantless inventory search of the vehicle, including any compartments or closed containers. The purpose of an inventory search is to protect “the property of the owner …, the police from claims resulting from lost or stolen property, and the police and the public from dangerous instrumentalities stored inside.” Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U.S. 367, 373 (1987). For an inventory search to be valid and the evidence discovered admissible, officers must adhere to standardized criteria and procedures. Florida v. Wells, 495 U.S. 1, 4 (1990).

         III. Discussion

         Defendant challenges the initial impoundment of his vehicle and therefore argues that the fruits of the subsequent inventory search, including the ...

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