Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Harris: Search of Cab Passenger Compartment Did not Violate 4th Amend.

In U.S. v. Harris, No. 07-13473 (May 8, 2008), the Court affirmed the denial of a motion to suppress a firearm found after a search of a taxi in which the defendant had been riding.
An Atlanta, Georgia, police officer saw Harris remove what appeared to be a handgun from bushes, and get into a taxi. The officer followed the cab, and pulled the cab over when the cab failed to use its turn signal when changing lanes. The officer searched Harris and found nothing on him. The officer then asked the cab driver for consent to search the cab, and found a .357 magnum under the floor mat. Harris, charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, moved to suppress the firearm on the ground that the search violated the Fourth Amendment.
The Court noted that the officer had probable cause to stop the cab, because of the failure to use a turn signal during a lane change. The officer also had reasonable suspicion to search Harris’ person, as an investigatory Terry stop.
Turning to the search of the cab, the Court noted that Harris had an expectation of privacy in the passenger compartment, because he closed the door to the cab when he got out of the car. However, this expectation of privacy did not trump the cab driver’s consent to the search of the cab – a consent on which the officer reasonably relied, because Harris stayed silent, and "never expressed disagreement with the driver’s consent."
The Court also rejected Harris claim that his statements given to federal law enforcement officials should have been suppressed, because at the time he was represented by counsel in pending state proceedings, and his right to counsel had therefore attached – citing U.S. v. Burgest, 2008 WL 659550 (11th Cir. March 13, 2008).