Lump Plus Lies Create Probable Cause

United States v. McGhee (8th Cir. 2019)

An officer responded to a traffic crash involving Delandus McGhee. McGhee told the officer he was in a hurry to drive his daughter to the hospital. The officer quickly completed the crash investigation and cited McGhee for unsafe driving.

Twenty-five minutes later, the officer saw McGhee driving in the same area. The officer ran a check and found McGhee had an outstanding arrest warrant and a suspended driver license. The officer drove through the neighborhood and found McGhee a few hours later, asleep in his parked car.

The officer woke McGhee and ordered him out of the vehicle. As McGhee got out of the car, the officer grasped McGhee’s left arm. McGhee reached down toward the car’s floor mat. The officer grabbed McGhee’s right arm and handcuffed him. McGhee told the officer he was attempting to retrieve his shoe. Once McGhee was secured, the officer retrieved the shoe from the floor. He noticed the floor mat was raised above the floor and upon lifting the floor mat, he found a gun.

McGhee challenged the search under the floor mat, claiming the officer lacked probable cause to lift the mat and see the gun.

McGhee challenged the search under the floor mat, claiming the officer lacked probable cause to lift the mat and see the gun. The court considered both McGhee’s misleading claim about his alleged sick daughter and the odd lump under the floor mat. The court noted, “apparently false statements and inconsistent stories were sufficient to give the officers probable cause.” Coupled with the “myriad cases” where officers found contraband under a floor mat, the court easily concluded the search was proper under the automobile search exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant clause.

The court’s opinion strongly suggests the lump under the mat alone could give rise to probable cause. The court did not cite McGhee’s reach toward the floor in the probable cause analysis. McGhee will have a little more than six years in prison to come up with a less obvious hiding place than under the floor mat.

This blog was featured in our Xiphos newsletter, a monthly legal-focused law enforcement newsletter authored by Ken Wallentine. Subscriptions are free for public safety officers, educators and public attorneys. Subscribe here!

Ken Wallentine

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over four decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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