August 22, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Denial of Motion to Suppress Affirmed Due to Inevitable Discovery Doctrine

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Christy on Friday, January 3, 2013.

After bringing a 16-year-old girl, K.Y., he had met online and exchanged sexual messages with from California back to New Mexico, Edward Christy was charged with one count of transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and three counts of possession of matter containing visual depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

He filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the warrantless search of his house, including his statements to the detective and all evidence obtained pursuant to the search warrants. The FBI contacted the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (“BCSO”) and told them what they had found. As a result, BCSO deputies Littlefield and McKinney were dispatched to Christy’s residence to conduct a welfare check on K.Y. The district court found that the deputies violated the Fourth Amendment when they entered Christy’s house without a warrant, and granted the motion to suppress. The government then filed a motion to reconsider. After reconsideration, the district court then denied Christy’s motion to suppress, on the grounds of inevitable discovery.

In rejecting Christy’s first argument on appeal, the Tenth Circuit reaffirmed that inevitable discovery requires only that the lawful means of discovery be “independent of the constitutional violation,” and concluded that a second investigation is not required. In this case, Officer Carvo had sufficient probable cause to obtain a warrant based on the information he had before the BCSO deputies searched Christy’s residence.

The court also rejected Christy’s argument that the district court misapplied the four Souza factors in finding the evidence would have been inevitably discovered. It held that Officer Carvo would have obtained a search warrant and the evidence would have been discovered legally. The fact that he had not taken preliminary steps to obtain a warrant did not defeat inevitable discovery because such preliminary steps are but one factor. The court affirmed.

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