Submitted: November 16, 2018
from United States District Court for the Northern District
of Iowa - Sioux City
BENTON, BEAM, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.
BENTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Gaye Morris conditionally pled guilty to conspiracy to
distribute methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C.
§§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846. The district
court sentenced her to 120 months'
imprisonment. She appeals the denial of her motion to
suppress. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291,
this court affirms.
September 2016, Deputy Taylor of the Clay County
Sheriff's Office ("CCSO") stopped a
recreational vehicle driven by Morris to execute an arrest
warrant. After the arrest, Deputy Taylor and another deputy
impounded the RV. During an inventory search, they found
marijuana, two glass pipes, and a digital scale. They did not
complete the inventory, testifying it "didn't seem
reasonable to continue searching" because parts of the
RV were "inaccessible." The next day, with a search
warrant, they found 69.5 grams of meth at her residence. The
next week, with a search warrant, they found 138 grams of
meth and $9, 500 in cash in the RV.
moved to suppress "all evidence and 'fruits of the
poisonous tree' obtained as a result of the unlawful
seizure and search" of her RV. After a suppression
hearing, the magistrate judge recommended denying the motion.
The district court adopted the magistrate's findings and
recommendation. Morris appeals, arguing the inventory search
was unlawful. Reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress,
this court reviews "legal conclusions de novo and
factual findings for clear error." United States v.
Woods, 747 F.3d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 2014). "A
credibility determination made by a district court after a
hearing on the merits of a motion to suppress is virtually
unassailable on appeal." United States v.
Frencher, 503 F.3d 701, 701 (8th Cir. 2007) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
argues the government failed to prove the CCSO had a
standardized policy for impounding and inventorying vehicles.
The record does not contain a copy of the written policy
because Morris objected to its admission at trial. However,
Deputy Taylor testified about it. According to him, since
August 2015, the CCSO has had a written policy about
impounding and inventorying vehicles. It designates four
times a deputy may impound a vehicle: (1) abandonment; (2)
accident; (3) driver arrest; or (4) traffic hazard. The
policy allows, but does not require, deputies to release a
vehicle to a registered, insured driver. It is CCSO practice
to release vehicles only to drivers present at the time of
impounded, the policy requires deputies to inventory a
vehicle's contents, including the trunk, for items valued
at $25 or more. Although not written in the policy, it is
CCSO practice to inventory containers if deputies believe
they may have items valued at $25 or more. The policy
requires deputies to complete a full inventory unless
unreasonable to do so.
absence of the written policy in the record does not preclude
establishing its content. "While a written policy may be
preferable, testimony can be sufficient to establish police
impoundment procedures." United States v.
Betterton, 417 F.3d 826, 830 (8th Cir. 2005). Based on
Deputy Taylor's testimony, the magistrate judge found
that Deputy Taylor:
[D]id follow the standardized criteria outlined in the
written impound policy and the standard practices of the
sheriff's office. Deputy Taylor was forthright when he
testified. He is familiar with the practices of the
sheriff's office, which were the same before and after
the impound policy was written. I further credit Deputy
Taylor's testimony about the policy and practices in
light of his years of service with the sheriff's office,
his duties as a routine patrol deputy, and the fact that he
impounds vehicles several times per week.
the magistrate's findings, the district court added,
"Regarding his department's policy, Taylor was
unwavering that he knew that the arrest of the vehicle driver
and existence of a roadside hazard were two instances in
which the policy allows officers to impound a vehicle."