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United States v. Ball

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

October 29, 2015

United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
Frolly Maurice Ball, Defendant - Appellant

Submitted September 25, 2015.

Appeal from United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, Waterloo.

For United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee: Ravi T. Narayan, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, Lisa C. Williams, U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office, Cedar Rapids, IA.

For Frolly Maurice Ball, Defendant - Appellant, Pro se, Yazoo City, MS.

For Frolly Maurice Ball, Defendant - Appellant: Sue Genrich Berry, Bowen & Berry, Titonka, IA.

Before MURPHY, MELLOY, and SMITH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

MURPHY, Circuit Judge.

Frolly Maurice Ball was arrested after the car in which he was a passenger was stopped by the Illinois state police. An inventory search of the car revealed approximately 1 kilogram of cocaine inside the air filter box in the engine compartment. The district court[1] denied Ball's motion to suppress the evidence from the search. Ball entered a conditional guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin, cocaine, and crack cocaine, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion. Ball now appeals that denial as well as his sentence. We affirm.

I.

On November 12, 2010 Officer Chad Martinez of the Illinois state police stopped a vehicle heading west on Interstate 80 after it made a sudden change of lanes while passing his location. Officer Martinez became suspicious when he approached the car and saw multiple air fresheners hanging from the rearview mirror, several cell phones, and numerous fast food wrappers. He also observed that the driver of the car, Darrick Johnson, was visibly nervous when responding to questions. The car was registered to an Iowa woman, apparently Ball's girlfriend. Ball himself was seated in the passenger seat.

After Officer Martinez checked Johnson's driver's license and determined that it was suspended and that Ball did not have a license to show, he told them that he would have to impound the car because neither had a valid license. Martinez then conducted an inventory search of the car as required by department policy for all towed vehicles. The policy restricts such searches " to those areas where an owner or operator would ordinarily place or store property or equipment," including the " [t]runk and engine compartments." When Martinez opened the hood of the car, he noticed fresh fingerprints on the air filter box. He opened the cover of the box and discovered two packages of cocaine. Martinez then arrested both men.

A grand jury indicted Ball on one count of conspiracy to distribute 1,000 grams or more of heroin, 500 grams or more of cocaine, and a detectable quantity of crack cocaine, 21 U.S.C. § § 841(a), 841(b), 846. Ball moved to suppress the drugs found in the air filter box and his subsequent statements to the police, contending that the inventory search was only a pretext for an investigation. He further argued that opening the air filter box was beyond the scope of a permissible inventory search. The district court denied the motion, concluding that the search was a valid inventory search and fit the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. The court reasoned alternatively that the government would have inevitably discovered the drugs based on a separate investigation conducted by DEA agents who were monitoring Ball on a wiretap. Ball entered a conditional plea of guilty, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. The district court sentenced Ball to 235 months imprisonment and 5 years supervised release. Ball now appeals the denial of his suppression motion and his sentence.

II.

Ball argues that the district court erred by denying his motion to suppress because Officer Martinez's warrantless search of the car violated the Fourth Amendment.[2] The government responds that Officer Martinez conducted a constitutionally permissible inventory search. " We will uphold the district court's denial of a motion to suppress unless it rests on clearly erroneous findings of fact or reflects an ...


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