United States v. Miller, No. 22-1896 (7th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
Police found Miller lying on the sidewalk, bleeding from an apparent gunshot wound. An officer rendering aid removed a vehicle key fob from Miller’s hand, dropping it on the ground. A car, parked 15-20 feet from Miller, had bullet holes in the rear driver’s side door. Officers checked whether there was anyone in the car. One officer shined his flashlight through the windshield and saw what he thought was blood on the front passenger seat. An officer picked up the key fob and clicked a button. The car’s horn honked. Minutes later, an officer stated that he could see the barrel of a gun sticking out from under a hat on the front passenger seat. The car was towed to the police station. At the hospital, Miller said that he was using his girlfriend’s car. A database check showed that the impounded car was registered to Miller. The police obtained a warrant to search the car without mentioning the key fob. Police recovered the gun. DNA on the gun matched Miller’s. He was indicted for possessing a firearm as a felon.
The Seventh Circuit upheld the denial of Miller’s motion to suppress. Miller argued that clicking the key fob qualified as a search. The district judge reasoned that the fob was used only to identify the car, not to gain entry, and that Miller had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the identity of his car. The Seventh Circuit reasoned that the evidence was also admissible under the independent source doctrine. The car would have been searched regardless of the identity of its owner.