Unpublished Disposition, 930 F.2d 30 (9th Cir. 1987)

Annotate this Case
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit - 930 F.2d 30 (9th Cir. 1987)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,v.ROBERT HILL, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 88-1176.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

Submitted Nov. 27, 1990.* Decided March 28, 1991.

Before PREGERSON, FERGUSON and TROTT, Circuit Judges.


MEMORANDUM** 

Defendant-Appellant Robert Hill was convicted of carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (1). He appeals the district court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence recovered in the search and seizure of his car. Hill contends the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents lacked probable cause to seize his car pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881.1  We affirm.

* On March 6, 1987, undercover DEA agents purchased, for the fourth time, cocaine from Hill with pre-recorded bills. Hill took the cocaine from a small white case hidden in his apartment's bathroom ceiling. Immediately after the sale, the agents applied for a search warrant for Hill's apartment.

While waiting for the warrant's approval, the agents maintained surveillance of Hill's apartment. A few hours after the sale, Hill left the apartment pulling a cart carrying, among other containers, a green footlocker large enough to contain the small white case. Hill walked toward his car. He started it and loaded the containers into the car's trunk.

At this point, the agents were informed of the warrant's approval. The agents arrested Hill and took him up to his apartment to execute the search warrant.

At the apartment, the agents searched Hill and recovered the pre-recorded bills. After a fifteen to twenty minute preliminary search of Hill's apartment failed to recover the small white cases, the agents seized Hill's car. The search of the apartment lasted for another one to two hours.

An agent drove Hill's car back to the federal building. The containers in the trunk were subsequently opened pursuant to search warrants. In the green footlocker, the agents found 440 grams of cocaine, firearms and the small white case, which contained drug related contraband.

II

21 U.S.C. § 881(b) (4) provides that property can be seized without warrant if the government has probable cause to believe that the property is subject to forfeiture. 21 U.S.C. § 881(a) (4) allows forfeiture of "all vehicles ... which are used, or are intended for use, to transport, or in any manner facilitate the transportation, sale, receipt, possession, or concealment of [controlled substances] ..." See United States v. Dickerson, 873 F.2d 1181, (9th Cir. 1988); United States v. One 56-Foot Motor Yacht Named Tahuna, 702 F.2d 1276, (9th Cir. 1983); United States v. One 1970 Pontiac, 529 F.2d 65 (9th Cir. 1976). Probable cause exists if there are reasonable grounds for the government's belief. Dickerson at 1184. We review the probable cause determination de novo. Id.

We agree with the district court's finding of probable cause. The purchase of the cocaine occurred just a few hours before Hill packed his trunk. There is no evidence that Hill left his apartment during those few hours. Thus, he had no other opportunity to dispose of the small white case outside his apartment.

Furthermore, the search of Hill's person subsequent to his arrest recovered the pre-recorded bills. Coupled with the fact that Hill had started his car while loading his trunk, the recovery could lead an agent to reasonably believe that Hill intended to transport the proceeds of a cocaine sale. Such an act would certainly fall in the category of facilitating the sale of cocaine.

Finally, the agents seized the car only after the preliminary search of Hill's apartment failed to recover the small white case. The preliminary search would have revealed the small white case had it been still hidden in the bathroom ceiling. Thus, the agents could reasonably believe that Hill had placed the small white case into the green footlocker he loaded into his car.

Therefore, we conclude the agents had reasonable grounds to seize Hill's car.

AFFIRMED.

 *

The panel unanimously finds this case appropriate for submission without oral argument pursuant to Fed. R. App. P. 34(a) and 9th Cir.R. 34-4

 **

This disposition is not appropriate for publication and may not be cited to or by the courts of this circuit except as provided by 9th Cir.R. 36-3

 1

In pro se briefs, Hill set forth other issues which we find meritless and irrelevant to this appeal