Collective knowledge doctrine allowed vehicle stop


Brian Broussard was arrested on May 12, 2021, during a buy-bust operation, after a months-long investigation into Broussard’s drug trafficking crimes. On the day of his arrest, three simultaneous residential search warrants were executed in connection with law enforcement’s investigation of Broussard. Prior to the arrest, Broussard was observed for months travelling to the freely accessible stash house, a public housing residence issued to Carlnetta Andrus, and he was almost always alone. Following the arrest, testimony revealed that Broussard and Carlnetta Andrus’s husband, Issac Andrus, were engaged in a transaction to facilitate and store drugs at the home.

Around 9:00 a.m. on the day of Broussard’s arrest, ATF agents observed Broussard arriving at Long Plantation, the residential apartment of Broussard’s girlfriend, and one of the three residential areas subject to a search warrant. Upon exiting the vehicle, ATF agents observed Broussard openly carrying a black Glock handgun despite being a convicted felon. Shortly after his arrival, Broussard departed in a silver Honda Accord without ATF agents initially noticing. Broussard traveled to the aforementioned stash house. Broussard then departed from the stash house in the Honda Accord.

Law enforcement personnel abandoned the buy-bust operation and requested assistance from the Lafayette Police Department in conducting a roadside stop to detain Broussard. Officer Ryan Richard, who communicated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, testified he was informed by Agent Herman of the FBI that Broussard was considered armed and dangerous. Upon executing the stop, Officer Richard found approximately $2,000.00 of cash on Broussard’s person, but no gun was found. Officer Richard, through his communications with FBI and ATF agents, was aware Broussard had possession of or had recently possessed a Glock handgun. Broussard was detained and escorted to the back of the police car.

To verify no occupant was still in the car, Officer Richard peered through the back window, but the tint was too dark to see through it. Law enforcement officers seized the keys to the vehicle and opened the back door, where they noticed a bag with roughly $7,000.00 of cash protruding out of it. The Honda was driven to the stash house, but a crowd began gathering. Law enforcement personnel moved the Honda to the local FBI parking lot where an inventory search was conducted. Agents found the Glock handgun under the driver’s seat. The handgun was illegally modified with a “Glock switch” to allow for automatic firing.

Broussard filed a motion to suppress the Glock handgun received from his vehicle during the traffic stop on May 12, 2021, arguing that it was recovered as a result of a warrantless search without probable cause. The district court denied the motion and reasoned that law enforcement had established a lawful basis for the stop and probable cause of the search of the car under three alternative theories: the collective knowledge doctrine, the inventory search doctrine, and the automobile exception. The 5th affirmed.


A. Collective Knowledge Doctrine

Under the “collective knowledge doctrine,” an officer initiating the stop or conducting the search need not have personal knowledge that gave rise to reasonable suspicion or probable cause so long as he is acting at the request of those who have the necessary information. See Zuniga. Necessarily, then, there must be some degree of communication between the acting officer and the officer who has the requisite facts.

Although Broussard argues that law enforcement never saw him enter the Honda and leave the property, it is reasonable to suspect that if one goes out of sight and suddenly a car is missing from the same property, the person potentially exited the premises in the missing car. Law enforcement personnel who conducted the search both on the side of the interstate and at the FBI parking lot knew of the facts giving rise to the probable cause.

For example, Agent Herman’s firsthand knowledge of seeing Broussard with a gun during a drug trafficking operation on the day of the search imputed to Officer Richard. It would be unrealistic if the only person who could detain a criminal and seize evidence is the officer with all the necessary facts and the one who directly witnessed the crime. The district court correctly concluded that probable cause existed to search the car because officers collectively knew that Broussard potentially possessed a firearm, that Broussard was a prohibited person in possession of such a firearm, and that both Broussard and the Honda Accord were involved in the drug trafficking organization that was under investigation. After the stop and considering the $2,000.00 of cash found on Broussard’s person, the knowledge of a potential firearm, and the discovery of nearly $7,000.00 of cash on the seat while clearing the car, there was a fair probability to conclude that contraband or evidence of a crime would be found in the car.

Even if probable cause were not present at the inception of events on May 12, 2021, at the very least the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop the car. Considering Agent Herman’s imputation of knowledge regarding earlier observations of Broussard, there was, at the minimum, reasonable suspicion that justified the stop. Once the stop was effectuated based on reasonable suspicion, officers noticed a large amount of cash on Broussard’s person and his seat, rising to probable cause for both an arrest and a search considering the totality of the evidence.

Because Officer Richard knew Broussard had committed a crime or was currently committing a crime by being a felon in possession of a gun during a drug trafficking scheme, there was probable cause to arrest Broussard. Further, Officer Richard had probable cause, or at the least reasonable suspicion, to open the back door of the vehicle because there was a possibility that the earlier-observed gun was in the car and that other occupants may be present.

B. Inventory Search Doctrine

Police are not precluded from conducting an inventory search when they lawfully search the vehicle of an individual they suspect to be involved in a crime. See United States v. Marshall, 986 F.2d 117 (5th Cir. 1993). An inventory search must not be a ruse for a general rummaging in order to discover incriminating evidence. See SCOTUS Florida v. Wells, 495 U.S. 1 (1990). An inventory search is reasonable if it is conducted pursuant to standardized regulations and procedures that are consistent with [1] protecting the property of the vehicle’s owner, [2] protecting the police against claims or disputes over lost or stolen property, and [3] protecting the police from danger. See United States v. Hope, 102 F.3d 114 (5th Cir. 1996). There is no requirement that the prosecution need to submit evidence of written procedures for inventory searches; testimony regarding
reliance on standardized procedures is sufficient as is an officer’s unrebutted testimony that he acted in accordance with standard inventory procedures. See Lage.

Even if law enforcement lacked probable cause to search Broussard’s car on the side of the interstate, the search in the FBI parking lot was justified under the inventory search doctrine. Broussard argues that the officers had an ulterior motive to search the car because of both the lack of an inventory log and because the car was moved from the place of the original stop.

The district court judge correctly ruled that inspection of the car was a valid inventory search. Inventorying the car reduced the exposure of liability for lost or stolen items. Cash in the amount of $7,000.00 was in plain view on the back seat, in addition to the nearly $2,000.00 in cash found on Broussard’s person. So long as police do no more than they are objectively authorized and legally permitted to do, their motives in doing so are irrelevant and hence not subject to inquiry. See United States v. Causey, 834 F.2d 1179, (5th Cir. 1987). Certainly, large sums of cash should have been inventoried to reduce the obvious risk of it being lost or stolen. Secondly, the car was originally stopped in a dangerous location. There is an obvious need to move the car away from the interstate to protect the officers and the vehicle owner’s property. The car was moved a second time away from the stash house because testimony showed a large crowd began gathering. Again, the inventory search is reasonable if consistent with protecting the officers, protecting the vehicle owner’s property, and reducing the risk of potential claims and disputes over lost property, which is exactly what happened in this case.

C. Automobile Exception

Under the automobile exception, police may stop and search a vehicle without obtaining a warrant if they have probable cause to believe it contains contraband. See Beene. The officers had reason to believe that evidence of a crime was in the vehicle. At the suppression hearing, the district court found that knowledge concerning Broussard’s activity the morning of the arrest and months-long investigation established probable cause.

A few hours before the stop, law enforcement observed Broussard, a convicted felon, with a handgun around a known drug trafficking house. Broussard went out of sight and, simultaneously, a Honda Accord was seen leaving the premises. This amounted to probable cause to pull Broussard over because, although the officers were not certain Broussard was in the Honda, the officers correctly relied on their own inferences and experiences to stop the car. After Broussard was pulled over and identified with over $2,000.00 in cash on his person, law enforcement cleared the car to make sure no other occupants were inside and noticed around $7,000.00 in cash on the back seat. Under SCOTUS United States v. Ross, 465 U.S. 798 (1982), when a car has been legitimately stopped and there is probable cause to believe it contains contraband, the police may conduct a probing search of all areas of the car and containers that might hold the contraband.

While visible cash may not conclusively show that a crime has been committed, considering the totality of the circumstances, and viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, the district court did not err in determining that officers had probable cause to believe evidence related to criminal activity was in Broussard’s vehicle. Thus, the warrantless search was justified.