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Media Alerts - United States v. Patiutka -- Fourth Circuit
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December 3, 2015
  United States v. Patiutka -- Fourth Circuit
No Warrant? No Probable Cause? No Exception to the Fourth Amendment Says the Fourth Circuit

Areas of Law: Criminal Procedure

Issue Presented: Whether the warrantless search of Patiutka's car was incident to his arrest or fell within the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement.

Brief Summary: Following a warrantless search of Dmytro Patiutka's car, Virginia State Troopers discovered a credit card reader, credit card embosser, credit card re-encoder, and four new iPads. The officers arrested and questioned Patiutka. He was later charged with access device fraud and aggravated identity theft. Mr. Patiutka moved to suppress the evidence found during the search and any statements he made when arrested. The district court granted the motion to suppress because the search was not incident to Patiutka's arrest and it did not fall within the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment.

Extended Summary: In 2013, Virginia State Trooper G.S. Cox pulled over Dmytro Patiutka for traffic violations. Although Patiutka's driver's license contained a different name and birth date from what Cox thought he had been given, the trooper told Patiutka that he was, "free to go." In his mind, however, Trooper Cox did not think Patiutka was free to leave, so he asked Patiutka for consent to search his car. It is unclear whether consent was actually given when Trooper Cox, with the assistance of Trooper Moore and other officers who had arrived, began to search Patiutka's car. They found a bag with a credit card reader and a suitcase with 4 new iPads. At this time, Patitutka asked why the officers were searching his car, and Cox responded, "I asked you could I search your car." Patiutka then told Cox to close the car, and Trooper Cox told the other officers to stop searching the car. Trooper Moore stopped searching the car and announced he was placing Patiutka into "investigative detention." With Patiutka in investigative detention, the officers continued to search Patiutka's car for 50 minutes, finding a credit card embosser, a credit card re-encoder, and blank credit cards. Following the search, Patiutka was taken to the police station and questioned by Trooper Moore and Secret Service agents. Patiutka made incriminating statements during this interview and was later charged with access device fraud and aggravated identity theft. Patiutka moved to suppress the physical evidence and statements resulting from the search of the car.

The United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia granted the motion to suppress and rejected the government's arguments that the search was incident to Patiutka's arrest or fell within other Fourth Amendment exceptions to the warrant requirement. The Fourth Circuit reviewed the grant of the motion to suppress de novo and reviewed the factual findings by the district court for clear error.

On appeal, the government argued that the search of Patituka's car was incident to his arrest. Police officers are allowed to search a vehicle incident to arrest when the arrestee is unsecured and close to the passenger compartment or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence relating to the offense of arrest. The government argued that Trooper Cox had probable cause to arrest Patiutka for providing a false identity, and the car search was incident to the arrest for providing false identity information.

The district court found there was not probable cause to arrest Patiutka. The district court viewed the dashboard video of the stop and found that (1) Trooper Cox did not ask Patiutka any follow-up questions about the differing birthdates; (2) the Trooper asked for and believed he received consent to search the car, and the Trooper called off the search when consent was revoked; and (3) it is unclear what Patiutka said about his birthdate because of highway traffic, a barking police dog and Patiutka's foreign accent. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that probable cause to arrest Patiutka only arose after the officers discovered the credit card materials, so the search was not incident to Patiutka's arrest.

The government also argued the search fell under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. Police officers may search a car without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe the car contains evidence of criminal activity. The district court found there was not an objective basis for probable cause to search because there are harmless reasons why one would be in possession of a credit card reader and four new iPads, and Officer Cox failed to question Patiutka after discovering these objects. The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court, stating that the automobile exception did not apply because it requires police to have probable case and there was none.

Finally, the government argued the officers had probable cause to arrest due to the collective knowledge doctrine. The collective knowledge doctrine directs the court to "substitute the knowledge of the instructing officer or officers for the knowledge of the acting officer." Collective knowledge does not, however, allow a court to aggregate disparate pieces of information from many officers to create probable cause. The district court and Fourth Circuit agreed that the collective knowledge doctrine did not apply because, as instructing officer, Trooper Cox did not have probable cause to conduct the search and, when Patiutka revoked consent, the search was called off.

The district court's grant of the motion to suppress was affirmed.

To read the full opinion click here.

Panel: Judges Motz, Wilkinson, and Agee

Argument Date: 9/15/2015

Date of Issued Opinion: 10/23/15

Docket Number: No. 14-4932

Decided: Affirmed by published opinion.

Case Alert Author: Diamond Martin, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: ARGUED: Jean Barrett Hudson, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellant. Andrea Lantz Harris, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Anthony P. Giorno, Acting United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellant. Larry W. Shelton, Federal Public Defender, Christine Madeleine Lee, Research and Writing Attorney, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Roanoke, Virginia, for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Judge Motz

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Renee Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 12/03/2015 02:49 PM     4th Circuit  

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