A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

third  circuit

By Burt Rose

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The United States Court of Appeals for the third circuit has decided the case of United States vs Donohue, 2014 WL 4115949, on August 22, 2014. This was a government appeal from the grant of a motion to suppress by Judge Caputo in the United States District Court for the middle District of Pennsylvania. The panel was composed of judges Ambro, Greenberg and Barry; Judge Greenberg wrote the opinion for the panel. 

The Appellee  was a fugitive. The police arrested him and as he entered his son’s automobile and proceeded to conduct an extensive, continuous and lengthy search until they found a firearm and other evidence. The police had no information whatsoever about the automobile prior to the search. 

The District Court suppressed because the police had no information that the car contained contraband or other evidence of a crime and therefore there was insufficient probable cause even under the automobile exception. 

The Court of Appeals reversed and found probable cause in view of the agent’s “extensive experience with fugitives who are likely to have false identification documents to be found in places where those items are ready and available to gather up and leave quickly, such as their cars.”

This decision reminds me of cases in which narcotics officers successfully testify that it is likely that drugs will be stored inside of a dealer’s home even if there is no information to indicate that such is the case as to that particular residence.

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