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United States v. Davis

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 20, 2018

JOSEPH DAVIS, Defendant, Appellant.


          Joshua L. Gordon for appellant.

          Scott W. Murray, United States Attorney, with whom Seth R. Aframe, Assistant United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

          Before Lynch, Stahl, and Barron, Circuit Judges.

          STAHL, Circuit Judge.

         Defendant Joseph Davis was convicted after a two-day bench trial of one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Davis raises two issues in this appeal. First, he contends that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress the handgun in question, which he claims was discovered during an unconstitutional search of his vehicle. Judge Joseph A. DiClerico, Jr., denied that motion and conducted Davis's first trial. That trial was held before a jury, which deadlocked on the sole charge. Davis was then retried in a bench trial held before Judge Landya B. McCafferty, who found him guilty. Davis argues that his conviction was not supported by sufficient evidence of his knowing and intentional possession of the weapon. After careful consideration, we affirm both the denial of the suppression motion and Davis's conviction.

         I. Factual Background and Prior Proceedings

         We summarize the facts in two parts. First, we describe those events relevant to Davis's arrest and the subsequent search of the car, which are recounted "as the trial court found them, consistent with record support." United States v. Andrade, 551 F.3d 103, 106 (1st Cir. 2008) (quotation marks and citation omitted). We then recite the facts related specifically to Davis's conviction for possession of a firearm by a felon, which are taken "from the trial transcript and present[ed] [] in the light most favorable to the judgment of the court . . . ." United States v. Grace, 367 F.3d 29, 31 (1st Cir. 2004). The procedural facts are undisputed.


         The events at issue stem from Davis's arrest in the early hours of July 2, 2016. Davis, a musician, performed at a Hampton, New Hampshire, bar on the evening of July 1, 2016. Davis left the bar following the show but, needing to use the restroom, attempted to return a short while later and was rebuffed on the basis of the bar's no-reentry policy. Instead, Davis obtained the keys to his then-fiancée's vehicle (the "Vehicle") from his brother and, without anyone else in the car, drove a short distance in search of a restroom.

         Three officers of the Hampton Police Department ("HPD"), Detective Robinson, and Officers Zigler and Hood, in two separate police vehicles, observed the Vehicle leaving the bar and watched it travel, without headlights on, to a nearby parking lot. Once there, Davis stopped the Vehicle perpendicularly across a designated handicap parking spot. At that point, the police officers pulled into the lot behind the Vehicle, activated their emergency lights, and approached on foot.

         As he neared the Vehicle, Robinson observed a number of potential signs that Davis was driving under the influence of alcohol and/or marijuana.[1] Robinson informed Davis that he had been driving without his headlights on and inquired whether he had consumed any alcohol that evening. While Davis attributed his erratic driving to his urgent need to use the restroom, Robinson suspected that Davis was impaired and took Davis's license to his cruiser to conduct a background check. Zigler and Hood remained with Davis and the Vehicle.

         After the background check indicated that the Vehicle was not registered to Davis, Robinson requested that he step out of the Vehicle. Davis appeared to have difficulty walking, and admitted to having had several drinks at the bar following his performance. Zigler also noted a bottle of alcohol in the car door as Davis opened it. Davis failed two of three "field sobriety" tests administered by the officers, and Robinson arrested him on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.[2] The officers then handcuffed Davis and placed him in one of the police vehicles.

         Following Davis's arrest, the police officers contacted a tow truck to remove the Vehicle. The HPD has a "Motor Vehicle Inventory Search Policy" that dictates guidelines for "conducting a search . . . for the purpose of making an inventory of the contents of a motor vehicle [directed to be] towed by the members of the [HPD]." Under that policy, officers are required to conduct an inventory search whenever, inter alia,

1. The vehicle is being towed under orders of a department member when the owner or custodian of the vehicle is under arrest.
2.The vehicle is towed under orders of a department member because the driver of the vehicle is under arrest and the owner or custodian is not present . . . .
. . .
6. The vehicle is illegally parked and is a hazard to traffic if allowed to remain.

         Robinson and Zigler testified that, when a driver is arrested for driving under the influence, HPD policy calls for the vehicle to be towed. However, both officers also stated that they sometimes permit an unimpaired, licensed person authorized by the arrestee to take the vehicle themselves in order to save the arrestee the cost of a tow. In this instance, the officers stated that two individuals came forward at the scene of the arrest and identified themselves as Davis's friends but refused Robinson's offer that they take the Vehicle away on Davis's behalf.[3]

          While waiting for the tow truck, Zigler entered the Vehicle to seize the bottle and cups in plain view.[4] Zigler then conducted an "inventory search" of the Vehicle as required by the policy quoted above, adding several items to an ...

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