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United States v. Bertucci

decided: April 2, 1976.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Illinois. No. CR 75-19-B WILLIAM G. JUERGENS, Judge.

Swygert, Circuit Judge, Bauer, Circuit Judge, and Hoffman, Senior District Judge.*fn* Swygert, Circuit Judge, dissenting.

Author: Hoffman

HOFFMAN, Senior District Judge.

These appeals by the defendants Joseph J. Bertucci, a/k/a Frank James Bertucci, Joseph A. Argento and Phillip F. Abbott, from their convictions for possession of stolen goods in violation of 18 U.S.C. ยง 659 present the question of whether a warrantless search of a motor vehicle was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The district court denied the joint motion of the defendants to suppress evidence thus obtained and entered judgments of conviction upon jury verdicts of guilty. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

At 1:30 a.m., on November 17, 1974, Illinois State Troopers Clyde Paris and Donald Pabst observed a northbound Chevrolet van weaving back and forth across the center line of Illinois State Route #1, eight miles south of Mt. Carmel, Illinois. By means of a flashing red light, the officers directed defendant Bertucci, who was driving the van, to pull over into a gravel lot adjacent to the highway. Bertucci pulled over as directed and the officers parked behind the van. Bertucci then emerged from the van and met the officers between it and the patrol car. Upon request, Bertucci displayed a valid Illinois driver's license and when questioned about the weaving, replied that he was tired. Pabst and Paris detected no odor of alcohol.

They proceeded with Bertucci to the front of the van for the purpose of conducting a customary inspection for alcohol or weapons. At the open door on the driver's side, Bertucci stepped quickly in front of Pabst as if to restrain him from looking into the van. Proceeding to shine their flashlights through the front windows, the officers observed defendant Abbott in the passenger seat and also some shipping cartons in the rear of the van, with defendant Argento lying "spread eagle" over the tops of some of the cartons. Bertucci volunteered that the three men were moving his aunt from Evansville, Indiana, to Chicago, Illinois, and produced his copy of an agreement for the rental of the van. In their inspection, the officers discovered no alcohol or weapons.

Accompanied by all of the defendants, the officers moved to the rear exterior of the van. By flashlight through the window, they observed that the shipping cartons were sealed and that invoice envelopes were attached to them. Bertucci then stated that his aunt had bought the goods in Evansville and that he, Abbott and Argento were moving them to Chicago for her. The officers requested Bertucci's permission to examine the cartons more closely. In response, he opened the rear door of the van. The officers then removed an invoice bearing the address of a hardware store in Beaver Dam, Kentucky, from an envelope attached to one of the cartons. Bertucci said that if permitted to make a phone call, he could verify his story of why the three men were transporting the cartons.

The officers then directed the defendants to the Mt. Carmel, Illinois, police station, where they were advised of their rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694, 86 S. Ct. 1602 (1966). At the station, the officers opened the shipping cartons and discovered the contents to be trousers and stereo components. By telephone conversation with the shopkeeper at the address in Beaver Dam, Kentucky, Pabst and Paris learned that goods ordered several weeks previously had not arrived. In a third version of why the defendants were in possession of the cartons, Bertucci stated that he had purchased them from an Eddie Andrews at 201 First Street in Evansville, Indiana. The Evansville police found no listing for Andrews or the address. While defendants were permitted an unlimited number of telephone calls from the police station, none produced information substantiating any of Bertucci's explanations.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. "Except in certain carefully defined classes of cases, a search of private property without proper consent is 'unreasonable' unless it has been authorized by a valid search warrant." Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 528-529, 18 L. Ed. 2d 930, 87 S. Ct. 1727 (1967). The parties do not here question the reasonable police conduct of stopping a weaving van at 1:30 a.m., and inspecting the front thereof for intoxicants and weapons. United States v. Hood, 493 F.2d 677, 680 (9th Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 852, 42 L. Ed. 2d 84, 95 S. Ct. 94 (1974). What they vigorously dispute is the authority of the officers under the Fourth Amendment to inspect the rear portion of the van.

We conclude that the officers had probable cause to search the entire van for alcohol or weapons. Thus, any Fourth Amendment distinction between the front and rear portions is untenable. If the officers may lawfully search the front for alcohol or weapons, it would be unreasonable to expect them not to search the rear. Both the front and rear are logical places for concealment of alcohol or weapons. In view of the weaving and the furtive attempt of Bertucci to restrain Pabst from looking into the van, the officers could justifiably expect to find alcohol or weapons, even though Bertucci had said that he was merely tired and the officers had detected no odor of alcohol. None of the defendants has suggested that a warrant is required to inspect the back seat of an automobile, which has been stopped for weaving, for weapons or alcohol. Open to view by flashlight from three windows, the rear portion of the van is like the back seat of an automobile. It is unlike the trunk, which because of its complete enclosure, might generate a greater expectation of privacy than the back seat, and even a trunk is accessible to warrantless search under appropriate circumstances. Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 93 S. Ct. 2523, 37 L. Ed. 2d 706 (1973). Furthermore, the fact of nightfall makes no difference in the case before us. Darkness does not usher in a set of Fourth Amendment rules different from those applicable in daylight.

The limited intrusions of Pabst and Paris are acceptable for other reasons. It is familiar doctrine that objects in plain view of officers rightfully in position to have that view are subject to seizure without warrant. Harris v. United States, 390 U.S. 234, 19 L. Ed. 2d 1067, 88 S. Ct. 992 (1967). The stop by the officers of the weaving van rightfully brought them into position to observe the cartons by flashlight through the front or rear windows. The shipping cartons plainly visible in the rear might have contained either weapons or intoxicants. It is no answer that they contained evidence of a crime instead, for the Supreme Court has recognized that ". . . often noncriminal contact with automobiles will bring local officials in 'plain view' of evidence, fruits or instrumentalities of a crime, or contraband." Cady v. Dombrowski, supra, 413 U.S. at 442.

When at the rear of the van, Bertucci modified his original explanation of the presence of the cartons, it would have been reasonable for the officers to conduct a more extensive search than the inspection actually undertaken. Bertucci realized that the sealed shipping cartons with invoice envelopes attached appeared new to the officers, and hence he explained that his aunt had bought the goods in Evansville. The evasiveness of a defendant was among the factors establishing reasonable grounds for an automobile search in United States v. White, 488 F.2d 563 (6th Cir. 1973), and courts have long recognized the utility of a motor vehicle for transporting evidence beyond official grasp, adjusting standards for warrantless automobile searches accordingly. Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 69 L. Ed. 543, 45 S. Ct. 280 (1924); Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42, 26 L. Ed. 2d 419, 90 S. Ct. 1975 (1970); United States v. Zemke, 457 F.2d 110 (7th Cir. 1972).

Even if we assume that the modified story and the mobility of the van do not together establish the reasonableness of the limited intrusions that occurred, the trial court might properly have found that Bertucci consented to the inspection of the cartons in the rear. Whether consent to a search is voluntary is to be determined from the totality of the circumstances. Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 93 S. Ct. 2041, 36 L. Ed. 2d 854 (1973); Watson v. United States, 423 U.S. 411, 96 S. Ct. 820, 46 L. Ed. 2d 598, 44 U.S.L.W. 4113 (1976). Although Bertucci testified that he never gave permission to search the van, he nevertheless opened the rear door in response to the officer's request to examine the cartons more closely. The record discloses no overt act, threat of force, promise or other form of coercion suggesting that the opening of the door on a public highway prior to any arrest was other than voluntary. Watson v. United States, 44 U.S.L.W. at 4116. Justifiably, the officers inspected the cartons and removed an invoice from an envelope attached to one of the cartons.

We recently said that "the ultimate test of the legality of the search and seizure is the reasonableness of the police officer's conduct." United States v. Balanow, 528 F.2d 923, 924 (7th Cir. 1976). The record before us discloses limited intrusions acceptable on grounds of inspection for weapons and intoxicants as well under the "plain view," "consent," and "automobile" exceptions to the warrant rule. These limited intrusions in turn produced sufficient information to establish reasonable grounds for a full search of the shipping cartons in the rear of the van. We cannot conclude that this police conduct is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

Defendants Argento and Abbott also contend that there is insufficient evidence to establish their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is substantial evidence, taking the view most favorable to the Government, to support the verdict of the jury, the verdict must stand. Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80, 86 L. Ed. 680, 62 S. Ct. 457 (1942); United States v. Keefer, 464 F.2d 1385, 1388 (7th Cir. 1972).

All of the defendants occupied a van ultimately found to contain stolen goods. The officers initially observed Argento lying on top of the cartons that contained these goods. Mud and cockleburrs were visible at the time of arrest on the clothing of the defendants and muddy clothing lay in the rear of the van. There was testimony that the cartons of trousers had been removed on the day of the arrest from a trailer standing on a lot in Evansville, Indiana, that was wet, muddy, and overgrown with weeds bearing burrs. There was evidence that the stereo equipment had been removed from a shipping dock in Evansville within a period of two days prior to the arrest. Argento and Abbott nodded their assent to Bertucci's explanations for the presence of the cartons in the van. Because we therefore conclude that substantial evidence supports the verdicts of the jury and that, for the reasons set forth, the motion to suppress was properly denied, the judgments of conviction will be, and are affirmed.


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