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Driver on Cross-Country Trip Did Not Have Authority to Consent to Search Passengers’ Luggage in Trunk, by Kristin Connor, Fifth Circuit Blog


United States v. Iraheta, No. 13-30545 (5th Cir. Aug. 19, 2014) (Stewart, Dennis, Gilstrap)

The panel affirms suppression of drugs found during a traffic stop in Louisiana. The car with a California license plate was occupied by three people on a cross-country trip from California to Miami. Out of the hearing of the other two occupants, the officers asked Iraheta for consent to search the car, and he consented. Based on this consent, the officers searched the luggage in the truck and found drugs in one of the bags.

Typically, consent to search a vehicle applies to any unlocked containers within it. However, ‘[t]he sole fact that luggage is located in a car’s trunk is insufficient to show joint control over those items.’ ‘Iraheta clearly did not have actual authority to consent to the search of multiple pieces of luggage in the trunk of a vehicle occupied by him and two passengers.’ The officers were on notice of this because the car was occupied by three people on a cross-country roadtrip and there were multiple unmarked bags in the trunk.

While the defendants did not object to the search or assert ownership of the bags, the panel found this not to be determinative, particularly since the other defendants did not hear Iraheta consent and were not informed about it. Furthermore, the defendants had standing to challenge the search because they did not abandon the bag prior to the search.