Wednesday, July 10, 2013

No "Standing" to Assert Fourth Amendment Protection in Vehicle on Common Carrier

US v. Castellanos: A Ford Explorer was taken off a car carrier in Texas, inspected (with the consent of the carrier's driver) and found to contain $3 million worth of cocaine in the gas tank.  Castellanos arrived (from North Carolina) to pick up the Explorer (for which he had the title), which he was allegedly in the process of purchasing from Castaneda (who may or may not exist).  Castellanos was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine in North Carolina.  He moved to suppress the drugs found in the Explorer, but the district court concluded that he had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the Explorer, which had been "given over to a common carrier with addresses which were ascertained to be false."  Notably, Castellanos did not introduce the title into evidence during the suppression hearing.  He entered a conditional guilty plea and was sentenced to 120 months in prison.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court, 2-1.  The court agreed with the Government that Csatellanos failed to show any ownership or possessory interest in the Explorer that would allow him to assert any Fourth Amendment rights.  The burden of showing "standing" to assert a Fourth Amendment claim rests with the person asserting it.  Although Castellanos told the officer in Texas that he owned the Explorer he did not introduce any evidence to support that claim at the suppression hearing.  Similarly, he offered no evidence that he possessed the Explorer with permission from the actual owner (whether that be Castaneda or someone else).

Judge Davis dissented, arguing that the record showed that Castaneda was actually an alias for Castellanos and showed he had an interest in the Explore that would allow him to make a Fourth Amendment claim.  He also argued that neither the district court nor the Government "called on" Castellanos to prove "standing."

NOTE: This case was decided on May 29, 2013.

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