Smile for the Camera

United States v. Gaulden, 2023 WL 4541077 (5th Cir. 2023)

YoungBoy Never Broke Again, or NBA YoungBoy, a convicted felon also known as Kentrell DeSean Gaulden, is a rapper whose company hired Marvin Ramsey to record Gaulden’s activities on video for promotional use and use in Gaulden’s music videos. A 911 caller reported several men with “Uzis” and other guns walking down a residential street. Officers responding to the call detained Gaulden, Ramsey and entourage members. Officers seized a memory card from Ramsey, along with several guns.

Officers then obtained a warrant to view the images on the memory card. The card held a video of Gaulden holding both Glock and Masterpiece Arms pistols. Gaulden was indicted for possessing firearms as a convicted felon and for possessing an unregistered firearm. Gaulden challenged the admission of the video.

The trial court ruled Gaulden had a protectable Fourth Amendment interest in the video but did not hold a legitimate expectation of privacy in the memory card itself. Ultimately, however, the trial court ruled the warrant was defective and suppressed the video of Gaulden possessing firearms. The prosecution appealed.

Gaulden’s right to Fourth Amendment protection for the memory card was dependent on whether he had a constitutionally protected property interest that conferred a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The 5th Circuit opined that Gaulden’s right to Fourth Amendment protection for the memory card was dependent on whether he had a constitutionally protected property interest that conferred a reasonable expectation of privacy in the place or thing searched or seized (the memory card). The court analyzes searches of personal property by considering “whether had a possessory interest in the personal property searched, whether he exhibited a subjective expectation of privacy in that personal property, and whether he took normal precautions to maintain that expectation of privacy.”

Gaulden neither owned nor possessed the camera or the memory card, both of which belonged to Ramsey. The trial court had relied on Gaulden’s claim that he controlled distribution of the footage and would decide what video images to turn over to his record company for promotional use. However, the appellate court noted Gaulden never produced evidence he had such a right. Gaulden did not testify, and there was no written contract giving him ownership of the video footage. Moreover, he didn’t hire Ramsey; Big38 Enterprises did. Thus, the appellate court held Gaulden did not have an established property interest in the footage.

Additionally, the court determined Gaulden lacked reasonable expectation of privacy in the footage. “A person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties…Here, there is no evidence from Gaulden or Ramsey affirming Gaulden’s intent to keep private the video footage, especially footage showing him and several confederates posing in a public street while bearing firearms.” To the contrary, Gaulden committed an “affirmative act” by giving Ramsey permission to videotape him and retain the recordings. The court cited a well-established example that “passengers do not have an expectation of privacy in an automobile glove compartment.” In this analogy, Gaulden is the passenger, Ramsey is the car owner and the video contained on the memory card is in the glove compartment.

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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