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United States v. Knapp

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

March 5, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
STACY JO KNAPP, a/k/a Stacy Jo Rafay, a/k/a Stacey Jo Knapp, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming (D.C. No. 2:17-CR-00207-SWS-1)

          Josh Lee, Assistant Federal Public Defender (Virginia L. Grady, Federal Public Defender, with him on the briefs), Denver, Colorado, for Appellant.

          Nicole M. Romine, Assistant United States Attorney (Mark A. Klaassen, United States Attorney, with her on the brief), Cheyenne, Wyoming, for Appellee.

          Before HOLMES, McKAY, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.


         Defendant-Appellant Stacy Knapp entered a conditional plea of guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) & 924(a)(2), and she was sentenced to 36 months' imprisonment and three years' supervised release. The conditional plea allowed her to appeal the district court's denial of her motion to suppress, and in the event it is successful, to withdraw her guilty plea. Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(a)(2). Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we reverse and remand.


         The parties do not dispute the material facts found by the district court. Ms. Knapp called the police to report a theft at a grocery store in Gillette, Wyoming. 3 R. 18-19. Officers responded to the call, apprehended the theft suspect, and took a statement from Ms. Knapp in the grocery store. Id. at 19. During their investigation officers gave police dispatch Ms. Knapp's name. Id. Dispatchers discovered that Ms. Knapp had an outstanding warrant for her arrest and informed Officer Zachary Parker. Id. at 19-20. By then Ms. Knapp had already left the grocery store, so Officer Parker went to the grocery store parking lot to find Ms. Knapp. Id. at 20.

         Officer Parker found Ms. Knapp in the driver's seat of a parked pickup truck outside the store. Id. He instructed her that she could not leave because he had to arrest her. Id. at 21. Ms. Knapp exited the truck and followed Officer Parker back into the grocery store. Id. Ms. Knapp voluntarily retrieved her purse from the seat of the truck when she followed Officer Parker back to the grocery store. Id. at 21-22. Because the officers were still concluding their theft investigation, Officer Parker asked Ms. Knapp to sit on a chair outside a bank office located within the store. Id. at 23.

         Once Ms. Knapp sat down, Officer Parker moved her purse, which was closed by a zipper, a few chairs away from her. Id. at 24. Ms. Knapp then asked her friend who was also present to take her purse, so she would not have to take it to jail. Id. at 25. This raised the officers' suspicions. Id. at 70-71. When her friend - who was originally willing to take her purse - declined, after being warned by Officer Jacob Foutch that taking it could be illegal, she tried to have her boyfriend take it or leave it in the truck she had been driving. Id. at 25-26, 41, 67-68. However, Officer Parker refused to let her leave her purse in the truck. Id. at 26, 70-71. Officer Parker then asked for her consent to search the purse but she refused. Id. at 41-42. The officers then placed Ms. Knapp in handcuffs behind her back, and Officer Foutch led her outside while Officer Parker carried the purse. Id. at 42-43; 1 Supp. R., Ex. C (Subpoena 17-06882 File 4, Body Cam Video of Officer Jake Foutch), at 29:30-30:00.

         The officers and Ms. Knapp walked to Officer Parker's patrol vehicle, and Ms. Knapp stood in front of the hood facing Officer Foutch. 3 R. 43. Officer Parker placed the purse on the hood of his patrol car. Id. at 28. At that time, Ms. Knapp stood near the bumper of the patrol car, the purse was on the hood near the windshield (about three to four feet from Ms. Knapp), and Ms. Knapp stood handcuffed facing away from the car and toward Officer Foutch. Id. at 28, 43, 56-57. Ms. Knapp's friend was on the opposite side of the patrol vehicle. Id. at 28. Next, after Officer Foutch threatened that she would be guilty of a felony for bringing drugs to a detention center, Ms. Knapp told him she was carrying a pistol in her purse. 1 R. 50, 55. At that point the officers searched the purse and found her pistol. When they searched the purse, three officers were present. See 3 R. 29.

         Ms. Knapp was charged with one count of unlawfully possessing a firearm after a felony conviction in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). 1 R. 10. She moved to suppress the firearm on Fourth Amendment grounds, arguing that the search was unreasonable and that her statement acknowledging the presence of the firearm was inadmissible derivative evidence. Id. at 12-17. The government argued that the search was proper under the search incident to arrest and inevitable discovery exceptions. Id. at 18-24; 3 R. 87-89. Without reaching the inevitable discovery issue, the district court concluded that the search incident to arrest exception applied and consequently denied the motion to suppress. 1 R. 163.

         The district court, noting that the case presented a "difficult choice," 3 R. 107, held that the search satisfied both the spatial and temporal proximity requirements essential for a search incident to arrest. 1 R. 160, 162. The district court reasoned that Ms. Knapp's purse was approximately three feet away from her when it was searched, and thus she could have gained access. Id. at 160. It reasoned that any delay between the arrest and the search (some 12 to 13 minutes) was necessitated by the officers conducting a theft investigation and allowing Ms. Knapp to make arrangements for her truck; there were no other intervening events separating the arrest from the search. Id. at 162.

         On appeal, Ms. Knapp argues that (1) the search of her purse was not truly incident to her arrest given intervening events, and (2) the search incident to arrest exception does not apply because (a) the police chose to put Ms. Knapp in proximity with her purse, and (b) Ms. Knapp could not have accessed the purse's contents at the time of the search. The government responds that given a lawful arrest, Ms. Knapp's first argument is in essence an attack on the district court's contrary factual finding. The government further responds that law enforcement did not artificially create the circumstances justifying a search ...

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