Thursday, May 12, 2011

Overreaching protective sweep "saved" by independent source doctrine

US v. Bullard: Bullard was convicted of possession with intent to deliver crack. He appealed the denial of a motion to suppress, argued the disparities in sentencing for cocaine and crack offenses violate both Equal Protection and Due Process, and that the FSA should apply to him.

First, the Fourth Circuit held that Bullard's Fourth Amendment rights were not violated by the investigating officers in this case. After finding it unnecessary to determine whether Bullard had a privacy interest as an unregistered hotel guest, the Court focused its attention on the problematic protective sweep the police conducted here. The protective sweep included a search of closed luggage and cabinets, but only after the police had found obviously incriminating evidence in plain view (e.g. the "smell" of narcotics, paraphernalia, and cocaine residue); however, the Fourth Circuit found that the sweep was saved by the independent source doctrine for two reasons: 1) the officers did not rely on the information they obtained in the protective sweep to obtain their search warrant; and 2) the officers intended at the outset of the search to obtain a search warrant. An overly aggressive protective sweep requires suppression, only if the "illegal search tainted the later recovery of the same evidence pursuant to a valid search warrant."

Second, the Fourth Circuit held that only the Supreme Court could overrule Fourth Circuit precedent set by a prior Fourth Circuit panel, declining to adjust the position that the disparities in crack and cocaine sentencing in 21 U.S.C. sect. 841 do not violate Equal Protection or Due Process rights.

Third, the Fourth Circuit held that the Savings Statute precludes the retroactive application of the new penalty provisions of the FSA to individuals who had been sentenced prior to the effective date of the FSA in early August 2010, a decision in concert with sister circuit rulings.

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