United States v. Dixon, No. 19-10112 (9th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Defendant appeals the district court's partial denial of his motion to suppress evidence resulting from a search of his vehicle. At issue was whether the insertion of a car key into a lock on the vehicle's door for the sole purpose of aiding the police in ascertaining its ownership or control is a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The Ninth Circuit has previously held that it was not, applying the "reasonable expectation of privacy" test from Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 360 (1967) (Harlan, J., concurring). See United States v. $109,179 in U.S. Currency, 228 F.3d 1080, 1087–88 (9th Cir. 2000).
However, in light of recent Supreme Court authority tying the Fourth Amendment's reach to the law of trespass, the panel must conclude that because "[t]he Government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information," United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400, 404 (2012), it conducted a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, a Fourth Amendment search occurs when an officer physically inserts a key into the lock of a vehicle for the purpose of obtaining information, as occurred in this case when an officer inserted the key specifically to learn whether defendant exercised control over the vehicle. On the record before the panel, it is unclear whether the officer had probable cause to believe that the particular vehicle into which he inserted the key was owned or controlled by defendant. The panel remanded for the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing and to rule on the suppression motion in light of the Jones and Jardines principles.
Finally, the panel held that the district court erred in finding that defendant was categorically ineligible for an acceptance-of-responsibility reduction on the ground that defendant did not accept responsibility for the greater offense of possession with intent to distribute. The panel explained that USSG 3E1.1(a) does not require that defendant admit to all the charged offenses. Consequently, in the event the district court upholds the search on remand and reinstates defendant's conviction, the district court shall conduct a resentencing so that it may make a factual finding regarding acceptance of responsibility in the first instance.