Prison with a Capital “P”

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Carter v. Parris, 2018 (6th Cir. 2018)

Deputies responded to a disturbance call and found a group of cars parked near an abandoned ferry landing. Maurice Carter was sitting in one of the cars with a 13-year-old. After one of the deputies noticed a bag of marijuana on the car seat, Carter consented to a search of his car.

The deputy found another bag of marijuana in the car, but had to suspend the search because Carter experienced a panic attack. After loading a panting and sweating Carter into an ambulance, the deputy resumed his search of the car. He found a lock box disguised as a fake dictionary and upon opening it discovered sexually explicit pictures of the child who had been in Carter’s car, along with some DVDs.

The deputy went to the hospital and spoke with Carter, who was later arrested upon his release from the hospital. Carter consented to a search of his apartment, where more sexually explicit images were found on his computer. Carter admitted to using the images to blackmail the child into continuing to submit to his sexual attacks. Carter was charged with various counts of child rape, criminal exposure to HIV, sexual exploitation of a minor and possession of marijuana.

Carter claimed the search of his fake dictionary lockbox exceeded the scope of his consent to search his car. He also asserted the inventory doctrine could not apply to the lockbox search because it was discovered before his arrest. The court made quick work of his claims, focusing on the initial plain view discovery of the marijuana.

Once the officers saw marijuana sitting on the seat, there was probable cause to search the car. The search could extend to any location in the car where additional contraband may have been concealed. The lockbox clearly could have hidden additional illegal drugs. The Court noted, “The fact that the lockbox was a locked container inside the car also makes no difference. The Supreme Court long ago dispensed with any categorical distinction between cars and the containers within cars. See California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. 565 (1991) … So long as ‘probable cause justifies the search of a lawfully stopped vehicle, it justifies the search of every part of the vehicle and its contents that may conceal the object of the search,”’ as ruled in United States v. Ross (456 U.S. 798 (1982)). The court also noted the inventory doctrine did not apply, but it didn’t matter because the car was lawfully searched pursuant to probable cause arising from the marijuana on the seat, and further supported by the discovery of additional marijuana.

Carter likely spent $10 on the dictionary lockbox (available on Amazon). His money would have been better spent on a real dictionary to help him spell terms such as “probable cause,” “child exploitation” and “prison.”

Or he could have ordered Street Legal: A Guide to Pre-trial Criminal Procedure for Police, Prosecutors, and Defenders (by Ken Wallentine, also available on Amazon). One hopes that Carter will take advantage of the dictionaries freely available in prison libraries. He’ll be there a long, long time, with a capital “L.”

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 three 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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