Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Johnson: "Actively Pursued" merely requires leads already in police possession

In U.S. v. Johnson, No. 13-15583 (Feb. 2, 2015), the Court held that the inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule applied when a police officer illegally discovered evidence that he would have discovered in a later inventory search. After pulling over Johnson and his vehicle, a police officer learned that Johnson’s driver’s licence was suspended. The officer learned that the vehicle’s owner was deceased. Thus, the officer had taken steps toward establishing that the vehicle needed to be impounded. The officer then searched the vehicle, illegally, and found a firearm. After arresting Johnson, the officer conducted an inventory search. The Court noted that, in order for the “inevitable discovery” exception to apply to the later inventory search, the government must establish that the lawful means which made discovery inevitable were being actively pursued prior to the occurrence of the illegal conduct. The Court explained that “actively pursued” did not mean that the police had already planned the particular search that would obtain the evidence. Rather, the police would have discovered the evidence by virtue of ordinary investigations of evidence or leads already in their possession. The purpose of the requirement of active pursuit is to exclude evidence that was not being sought in any fashion. Here, the officer’s investigation had taken multiple steps toward establishing that the truck needed to be impounded, that is, that an inventory search would be necessary.