Thursday, January 14, 2016

Suppression of Evidence in Train Search Affirmed

U.S. v. Hill, 2015 WL 6847861 (11/9/15) (NM) (published) - 10th affirms suppression of evidence in a train interdiction case. DEA agent Small testified for the government that since 9/11, Amtrak wants law enforcement to find the owner of a bag that lacks an ID tag and "if we cannot find the owner of the bag, the bag will not stay on the train as it leaves Albuquerque." On cross-examination the defense showed that Small's understanding of this policy came from "his generalized conversations with train conductors, not from a memorialized Amtrak policy," that Small had had no relevant discussions with Amtrak employees on the date in question, that there was no written policy between Amtrak and the DEA discussing procedures for bags without ID tags, and that Amtrak enforced no requirements that bags be tagged. The government pointed to an internet Amtrak baggage policy stating that "all items must contain an ID tag--free tags supplied at stations." However, there was nothing in the record showing that this policy is posted in Amtrak stations or on the trains or that it is set out on Amtrak tickets or boarding documents. The 10th concludes the government did not demonstrate that a reasonable traveler would have a diminished possessory interest in untagged luggage stored in the common baggage area. Small's actions "deviated significantly from a reasonable traveler's expectations as to how his bag would be treated in the common storage area." While Hill could reasonably expect that incoming passengers might reposition his bag, he also reasonably would have expected he could access his bag in the common storage area whenever he wanted. Small's actions amounted to a seizure without reasonable suspicion, exigency, or the issuance of a warrant, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.