from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Kentucky at Lexington. No. 5:15-cr-00020-3-Karen
K. Caldwell, Chief District Judge.
A. Cox, COX & COX, Fenelton, Pennsylvania, for Appellant.
Charles P. Wisdom Jr., Lauren Tanner Bradley, UNITED STATES
ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellee.
Before: CLAY, ROGERS, and SUTTON, Circuit Judges.
ROGERS, Circuit Judge.
case presents the question of whether a warrant is required
for a police officer, not investigating any wrongdoing, to
open the passenger door of a parked truck to ask whether the
sleeping occupant of the truck would be able to drive the
occupant's intoxicated girlfriend home. Fortunately, the
Fourth Amendment does not impose technical prerequisites upon
such a natural act of community service.
evening in August 2014, local police officer Greg Turner
responded to reports that a woman was intoxicated in a
Wal-Mart in London, Kentucky. Once inside the Wal-Mart,
Turner found the woman, later identified as Carol Lakes.
Officer Turner noticed that Lakes's "balance was
off, she was holding herself up by the buggy, she had trouble
keeping her eyes open, " and she was "nodding
off." Once he got closer, Officer Turner further noticed
that Lakes's speech was slurred, her eyes "red and
glassy, " and her mouth "real dry." Officer
Turner concluded that Lakes was "clearly under the
influence, " approached her, and "asked her if she
was all right." Lakes told Officer Turner that she had
been taking pain pills due to some back trouble.
Turner then asked Lakes if she was at the Wal-Mart by
herself. Lakes answered that she was at Wal-Mart with her
boyfriend-later identified as defendant Ronald Lewis-who was
outside in his truck. Officer Turner responded: "Well,
we'll go see if your boyfriend's all right, talk to
him and he can drive you out of here. You can go home."
Officer Turner also suggested to Lakes that he would have to
arrest her if Lewis could not drive her home. At some point
around then, another police officer, Rick Cloyd, arrived at
the scene. Lakes told the officers that her boyfriend would
in fact be able to drive her home, and led them outside to
her boyfriend's truck so that they could "check to
make sure that he was all right to drive."
officers approached Lewis's four-door Chevy truck, but,
because it was dark outside and the truck's windows were
tinted, could not tell whether it was occupied. Officer
Turner went around to the front-driver side of the truck,
looked through the window, and saw Lewis asleep on the
passenger side. Officer Cloyd and Lakes went around to the
front-passenger side of the truck.
is some dispute as to what happened next. Officer Turner
later testified that either Officer Cloyd or Lakes opened the
front passenger-side door, next to which Lewis was sitting.
Lewis testified that it was Officer Cloyd-and not his
girlfriend Lakes-who opened the passenger-side door. For the
purposes of this opinion, we adopt the district court's
assumption that it was Officer Cloyd who opened the door.
the door opened, the interior dome light went on, causing
Lewis to "startle" and "d[o] a little
jerk." This light enabled Officer Turner to see that
Lewis had a clear plastic baggie on his lap. Lewis tossed the
baggie over the truck's console onto the back floorboard.
Turner suspected that the baggie contained marijuana.
Accordingly, he shined his flashlight onto the baggie on the
back floorboard, and observed that it contained "like a
bluish color stuff in it, " which he thought could be
marijuana but might also be blue pills. Officer Turner then
opened the truck door, inspected the bag more closely, and
saw that it did in fact contain pills. Turner asked Lewis
about the pills, and Lewis "stated that he didn't
know nothing about them, and that's all he would
say." Lewis appeared to be "under the
influence" as well, based on his slurred speech. Lewis
and Lake were then both arrested. The bag of pills was tested
and found to contain 493 oxycodone 30 mg tablets and 5 pills
of Xanax, the trade name for the controlled substance
alprazolam. An additional four Xanax pills were found on
was indicted on various charges related to the possession of
oxycodone and alprazolam in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§§ 841(a)(1), 846. Lewis moved to suppress all
evidence seized in his vehicle as the products of an illegal
search. The district court, however, denied Lewis's
motion. The district court found that, at least until Officer
Turner saw the baggie, the officers' "sole purpose
was to find Lakes a safe ride home, " and that the
officers "were not investigating a crime."
Accordingly, the district court concluded that the officers
were initially not engaged in "traditional law
enforcement functions" and invoked the "community
caretaker" exception to the Fourth Amendment's
warrant requirement. See United States v. Rohrig, 98
F.3d 1506, 1521-22 (6th Cir. 1996). The district court
further concluded that, once Officer Turner saw Lewis toss
the baggie over the back seat, "the officers'
function changed to the investigation of a crime, " such
that the community-caretaker exception could not apply from
that point forward. However, the district court also held
that Lewis's behavior at that point gave Officer Turner
probable cause to search the truck under the automobile
exception to the warrant requirement. See Smith v.
Thornburg, 136 F.3d 1070, 1074 (6th Cir. 1998). In
particular, the district court noted Lewis's possession
of a clear plastic baggie, his "deliberately
furtive" action of throwing the baggie into the back
seat once he saw the officers, his own slurred speech, and
his girlfriend's ...