Court punts on deciding whether Summers doctrine can apply when vehicle is 250 yards away from house


As part of a three-month drug trafficking investigation, officers in the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office began conducting recorded video surveillance of Courtney D. Clayton’s home, which he shared with his mother. In addition, officers placed GPS tracking devices on a black Mercedes Benz and a silver Land Rover associated with the Claytons. Officers began to observe activities often associated with drug trafficking, including Clayton’s mother visiting multiple different pharmacies in Texas and repeatedly driving between Texas and Louisiana in a single day. Moreover, a reliable confidential informant claimed that he bought heroin from Clayton at his home, and that Clayton had a courier who would pick up two kilograms of heroin “somewhere west of Baton Rouge” twice a month.

Based on this information, officers applied for, and received, search warrants for both Clayton’s home and his Mercedes. However, as officers prepared to execute the warrants, they observed burglars break into and remove items from Clayton’s home. Believing that evidence of drug trafficking may have been stolen, officers continued their investigation for another two weeks before seeking a new warrant for Clayton’s residence. The officers did not renew their search warrant for the Mercedes. Rather, their new search warrant specified that officers could search Clayton’s residence, as well as “all other structures, vehicles, and places on the premises where evidence may be found.”

On the morning of the execution of the search warrant, officers observed Clayton exit his home and drive away from the residence. According to the post-execution Incident Report, officers “immediately conducted” a stop of Clayton’s car, detained Clayton, and proceeded to search his residence and vehicle. Officers discovered a large amount of cash, three cell phones, and controlled substances—specifically heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, and cocaine—in the Mercedes. Clayton was arrested and transported to the East Baton Rouge Narcotics Office for processing and further investigation. After arriving at the Narcotics Office, Clayton denied selling drugs, but stated that all the items in the car—including the narcotics and cash—belonged to him.

Clayton was subsequently charged with possession with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of a mixture or substance containing heroin, forty grams or more of a mixture or substance containing fentanyl, and a mixture or substance containing cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Clayton filed a motion to suppress the evidence discovered in the Mercedes, as well as Clayton’s incriminating statement to law enforcement. Clayton contended that the search warrant of the Mercedes had become stale, and that officers did not have probable cause to arrest him. Clayton also contended that the Government failed to meet its burden to show that officers advised him of his constitutional rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

The district court held a hearing on Clayton’s motion to suppress. At the hearing, the Government introduced the testimony of Sergeant Eric David and former Narcotics Agent Joshua Clark, two officers who conducted the vehicle stop on the Mercedes. In relevant part, former Agent Clark testified that the two had intended to stop Clayton “immediately”—i.e., as Clayton was “leaving his house” in his car—“for [the] overall safety of the operation,” but Sergeant David testified that they were unable to do so because an elderly woman “froze in the middle of the intersection,” causing a delay. Still, former Agent Clark testified that they were able to stop Taylor approximately one block—250 yards—away from his home. After the stop, Clayton was handcuffed, placed in the back of a marked police car, and driven back to his residence. Former Agent Clark testified that after returning to Clayton’s home, he provided Clayton with a Miranda warning. Clark stated that, as far as he could recall, Clayton did not make any statement verbally responding to the Miranda warning, but that he indicated through “body language”—the exact nature of which is not apparent from the record—that he did not wish to talk to the officers.

As to the sufficiency of the probable cause supporting the warrant, former Agent Clark testified that he had viewed surveillance video of Clayton’s home and had observed activities he believed were consistent with drug transactions. He also testified that he interviewed the confidential informant who had implicated Clayton in drug trafficking and had seized 1.2 pounds of heroin from the informant.

The Government also called Lieutenant James Cooper, who testified that, after being detained, Clayton was brought to the Narcotics Office for booking. Lieutenant Cooper explained that he had presented Clayton with a notice of pending forfeiture detailing the items seized from the Mercedes and had asked Clayton to verify the list. As part of that procedure, Lieutenant Cooper asked Clayton whether the money and narcotics belonged to him. Clayton responded by taking responsibility for all the property in the vehicle, but he denied that he had trafficked drugs. Lieutenant Cooper testified that he did not read Clayton his Miranda rights prior to this confession and stated that he did not threaten or coerce Clayton into making the statement.

Following the hearing, both parties filed briefs restating their arguments. The district court issued a written order denying Clayton’s motion to suppress. First, the district court determined that the search warrant was supported by sufficient probable cause. Next, citing SCOTUS Bailey v. United States, 568 U.S. 186 (2013), the district court held that the Mercedes was stopped within the “immediate vicinity” of Clayton’s residence, and thus the warrant for Taylor’s home encompassed the search of the Mercedes. Finally, the district court concluded that Taylor was properly provided a Miranda warning.

Following the denial of his motion to suppress, Clayton pleaded guilty pursuant to a written agreement that would allow him to challenge the denial of his motion to suppress on appeal. He was sentenced to 175 months of imprisonment, followed by five years of supervised release. Clayton timely appealed. The 5th affirmed.


A. Search of vehicle

In SCOTUS Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981), they held that a search warrant for contraband supported by probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to detain the occupants of the premises while a proper search is conducted.

The Court reasoned that three important law enforcement interests, taken together, justify the detention of an occupant who is on the premises during the execution of a contraband search warrant: (1) officer safety, (2) facilitating the completion of the search, and (3) preventing flight. In cases following Summers, this court extended Summers’s logic to vehicle stops of suspects made during the execution of contraband search warrants.

However, in SCOTUS Bailey v. United States, 568 U.S. (2013), they limited its holding in Summers, confining occupant and vehicle detentions only to the “immediate vicinity” of the premises to be searched. The Court reasoned that once an occupant is beyond the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched, the search-related law enforcement interests are diminished and the intrusiveness of the detention is more severe.

Since SCOTUS decided Bailey in 2013, this court has not yet had the opportunity to provide a more specific definition of “immediate vicinity.” The Government contends that their stop of Clayton 250 yards away from his home, and their subsequent transfer of Clayton back to the premises to be searched, comported with Summers/Bailey, especially in light of the fact that the officers would have stopped Clayton sooner had another car not blocked the officers from effectuating the stop. Clayton, by contrast, argues that 250 yards was too remote from his home as contemplated by Bailey, and that none of the important law enforcement interests discussed in Summers/Bailey were implicated in his stop.

Be that as it may, we do not, and need not, decide this question today. We may affirm a suppression ruling on any basis supported by the record.

Pursuant to the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment, a warrantless search of a readily mobile vehicle is permitted when law enforcement has probable cause to believe the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of a crime. See Rountree. A law enforcement officer has probable cause to conduct a search when the facts available to him would warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that contraband or evidence of a crime is present. See SCOTUS Florida v. Harris, 568 U.S. 237 (2013).

The district court found that the search warrant for the home contained sufficient probable cause, a conclusion that Clayton does not challenge on appeal. Many of the same uncontroverted facts that established probable cause to search the home for evidence of drug trafficking also apply to the search of the Mercedes. Those facts include the confidential informant’s specific, detailed statements about Clayton’s drug trafficking activities; the seizure of heroin from the informant; the officers’ surveillance of Clayton’s home and observation of activity suggestive of drug trafficking; a video-recorded incident in which a known drug trafficker visited Clayton at this home; and GPS tracking data on the Land Rover—a car that Clayton also used—that showed Clayton’s mother repeatedly visiting multiple pharmacies in Texas.

In addition, the record indicates that Clayton frequently used his driveway and carport—places where the Mercedes was often parked—to set up narcotics transactions, including one transaction involving a person wearing a Buffalo Wild Wings t-shirt, the same place that Clayton worked and traveled to via both the Land Rover and Mercedes, and the same place that Clayton was headed when he was stopped by law enforcement. While Clayton argues that no officer actually watched him put drugs, money, or cell phones into the Mercedes, and that some of the evidence in the record is arguably somewhat speculative, under the totality of the circumstances—and viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government—we hold that a reasonable person would have believed that evidence of drug trafficking would be present in Clayton’s Mercedes at the time the stop was effectuated. As a result, the police had probable cause, the automobile exception applies, and officer’s search of Clayton’s vehicle was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

B. Statement

The parties do not dispute that Clayton was in custody and was subjected to an interrogation when he was questioned by former Agent Clark and, later, Lieutenant Cooper.

Clayton’s principal argument is that by asking questions that were likely to elicit an incriminating response, Lieutenant Cooper did not “scrupulously” honor Clayton’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment right to silence. However, this argument presupposes that Clayton validly invoked his right to remain silent by failing to verbally respond to Clark’s warning and by indicating through body language that he did not wish to speak to officers. In Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370 (2010), SCOTUS explained that a suspect’s invocation of his right to remain silent must be unambiguous and unequivocal. If a suspect makes no statement, the police are not required to end the interrogation. Thus, in order to properly exercise his right to remain silent and cut off questioning, a suspect must either say that he wants to remain silent or that he does not want to talk with the police, or make a similar simple, unambiguous statement.

Here, the record does not show that Clayton made a simple, unambiguous statement invoking his right to remain silent. Rather, former Agent Clark testified that Clayton indicated that he did not want to talk “through body language,” and that he did not remember Clayton saying “any words.” And, to the extent that Clayton did say anything to former Agent Clark, the record does not support the contention that whatever was said qualifies as an “unambiguous” and unequivocal invocation of the right to silence. Therefore, Clayton failed to properly invoke his Fifth Amendment right to silence, and we need not consider Clayton’s argument that the officers failed to “scrupulously” honor his assertion of that right. The district court’s decision to deny Clayton’s motion to suppress was proper.

(To the extent that Clayton argues that Lieutenant Cooper was required to reissue a Miranda warning to Clayton before questioning him at the station, his argument lacks merit. Clayton does not cite any precedent in which this court required officers to reissue Miranda warnings to an arrestee who did not properly invoke his or her rights, was continually detained, and was questioned within a few hours of arrest. Moreover, this court has never held that a new recitation of rights is required with every break in interrogation as it is incomprehensible that over a three hour span, a defendant can go from knowing and understanding the nature of his rights to forgetting them and therefore making an unintelligent decision to speak to police, absent coercion, intimidation, or deception – See Cardenas).