On April 26, 2022, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided the United States v. Washington[i], which serves as an excellent review of the law as it pertains to probable cause arrest, the automobile exception, and the voluntariness of a confession when a suspect is under the influence of drugs. The relevant facts of Washington are as follows:

On June 4, 2019, three individuals—Jasmine Seay, Jerod Belcher, and Jerry Tynes—were arrested after a controlled buy. During Belcher’s interview with police, he confessed that, earlier that morning, he had sold one pound of methamphetamine to Washington in Room 202 of the Super 8 Motel in Central City, Kentucky. Belcher described Washington as a Black man who normally drove a black BMW with Indiana license plates. He explained to officers that he had purchased methamphetamine from Washington before and that he was supposed to buy another pound of methamphetamine from him for $3,200. Belcher agreed to cooperate with officers and contacted Washington to coordinate another buy at Room 202 of the Super 8 Motel later that night.

Before Washington was scheduled to arrive at the Super 8 Motel, officers endeavored to corroborate the information Belcher had provided them. They reviewed surveillance footage of a June 4 meeting between Seay, Belcher, Tynes, and an unknown Black man. After securing Washington’s driver’s license information, they confirmed the unknown man in the video was Washington.

As the time of the buy approached, Belcher continued to communicate with Washington and relayed the details of their correspondence to police. Based on that information, officers at the Super 8 Motel were advised that Washington would be driving a black BMW with Indiana plates and would have a female passenger with him. Sure enough, Washington arrived at the motel in his black BMW with a white female companion just after midnight on June 5, 2019. The two were arrested after knocking on the door to Room 202.

Officers detained Washington in Room 202. While he was detained, officers conducted a search of Washington’s BMW using a certified police dog. The dog alerted to narcotics at the driver’s side door. Following that alert, two officers searched the inside of Washington’s vehicle and found one pound of methamphetamine in the glove box and other controlled substances in the center console.

With the drugs secured, officers Mirandized Washington and began to question him. Washington confessed that he had drugs in his car, specifically marijuana and methamphetamine. At the suppression hearing, interviewing officers testified that Washington was mostly cooperative during the interview and appeared alert, despite the fact that he was under the influence at the time.”[ii]

Washington filed a motion to suppress.  The district court denied the motion, and he pleaded guilty with the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress.  He then filed a timely appeal with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On appeal, Washington argued (1) that the officers lacked probable cause to arrest him, (2) that the warrantless search of his vehicle violated the Fourth Amendment, and (3) that his statements to police were not voluntary because he was under the influence of drugs at the time.

I. The Arrest

The Sixth Circuit first set out to determine if the officers had probable cause to arrest Washington.  The court noted that probable cause is required by the Fourth Amendment to make a warrantless arrest.  Probable cause is present when

[A]t the time of the arrest, the facts and circumstances within the arresting officer’s knowledge and of which [he] had reasonably trustworthy information were sufficient to warrant a prudent person to conclude that an individual either had committed or was committing an offense.” United States v. Torres-Ramos, 536 F.3d 542, 555 (6th Cir. 2008)[iii]

The court then examined the facts relevant to whether the officers had probable cause to believe that Washington was committing an offense.  The court first noted that, Washington’s accomplices from a drug deal on June 4 told the officers that Washington sold them a pound of methamphetamine on that day.  Second, officers corroborated the information provided by the accomplices by motel surveillance video and comparing that to Washington’s driver’s license information.  Third, when one of Washington’s accomplices arranged another purchase of a pound of methamphetamine, they agreed to meet at Room 202 of the Super 8 motel to complete the transaction.  Fourth, as officers conducted surveillance, the observed Washington arrive at the decided date, time and location at the Super 8 motel driving the vehicle the accomplice described.  Fifth, Washington went to Room 202 and knocked on the door.  The court stated that the accomplice’s information was corroborated by the officer’s independent investigation and surveillance.  As such, they had probable cause to believe that Washington was committing an offense and the arrest was lawful under the Fourth Amendment.

II. The Vehicle Search

Next, the court examined the warrantless search of Washington’s vehicle.  The court noted the relevant legal principles as follows:

In the context of a search, probable cause requires only “a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.” Gates, 462 U.S. at 238. We need only ask “whether a nexus exists between a crime and the place to be searched and whether information in an affidavit is sufficiently timely to think that the sought-after evidence still [*8]  remains at the identified location.Baker, 976 F.3d at 646 (internal quotations and citation omitted). Under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement, “police officers may conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle if they have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime.” United States v. Smith, 510 F.3d 641, 647 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal quotations and citation omitted). “A positive indication by a properly-trained dog is sufficient to establish probable cause for the presence of a controlled substance.” United States v. Diaz, 25 F.3d 392, 393-94 (6th Cir. 1994).[iv]

The court of appeals found there was probable cause to believe that Washington’s vehicle contained illegal drugs.  First, police had probable cause to believe that Washington had driven to the motel for the purpose of selling one pound of methamphetamine.  Second, they observed his vehicle as it arrived, identified Washington as he exited and saw him walk straight to Room 202, the location of the transaction.  Third, after the officers did not find drugs on Washington’s person, a K9 sniffed the exterior of his vehicle and alerted to the presence of a controlled substance.  As such, the court found there was probable cause to believe his vehicle contained illegal drugs.

Washington argued that the automobile exception did not allow a warrantless search of his vehicle because he was under arrest and therefore his vehicle was not mobile.  However, the court of appeals replied to the this argument and stated

As we have previously recognized, the Supreme Court has been clear that a “lesser expectation of privacy” applies to vehicles “[e]ven in cases where an automobile was not immediately mobile[.]” Smith, 510 F.3d at 647 (quoting California v. Carney, 471 U.S. 386, 391, 105 S. Ct. 2066, 85 L. Ed. 2d 406 (1985)). Because the dog sniff gave the officers probable cause to search Washington’s vehicle, the automobile exception applies even though Washington’s detention made it unlikely to move. See Taylor v. City of Saginaw, 922 F.3d 328, 334 (6th Cir. 2019) (citing Smith, 510 F.3d at 647); see also United States v. Nigro, 727 F.2d 100, 106 (6th Cir. 1984) (en banc) (“HN6[] The automobile exception has always depended on the inherent mobility of the vehicle to be searched, not on whether it could in fact be used immediately to effect a removal of evidence[.]”).[v]

Therefore, the court held that probable cause was present to search the vehicle and the automobile exception applied to the search, based on the inherent mobility of automobiles, even though it was unlikely Washington could move it since he was detained.

III. The Voluntariness of Washington’s Statements

The court then examined whether Washington’s statements were voluntary.  The court stated

The Fifth Amendment protects the privilege against compelled self-incrimination by excluding involuntary confessions from a defendant’s trial. U.S. Const. amend. V; see also Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 163, 107 S. Ct. 515, 93 L. Ed. 2d 473 (1986). The government must show by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant’s confession was voluntary. United States v. Mahan, 190 F.3d 416, 422 (6th Cir. 1999). It is also the government’s burden to establish that Miranda warnings were properly given and understood. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444-45, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966). To determine whether statements were involuntary or coerced, we consider the totality of the circumstances. United States v. Montgomery, 621 F.3d 568, 571 (6th Cir. 2010). We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the government. United States v. Fowler, 535 F.3d 408, 417 (6th Cir. 2008). The impact of a defendant’s intoxication, like any other factor, is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Montgomery, 621 F.3d at 572-73.[vi]

Washington argued that his statements to officers were not voluntary because he was under the influence of drugs.  However, the court noted that the recording of the interview showed that Washington did not have physical manifestations of intoxication such as lack of balance, and that Washington appeared lucid throughout the interview.  The court also noted that

[S]imply being under the influence during an interview is not nearly enough to overcome a Miranda waiver. We have previously rejected claims that an intoxicated defendant’s statements were involuntary when credible testimony established that the defendant was otherwise alert, coherent, and lucid during questioning. See id. at 574 (morphine); see also United States v. Dunn, 269 F. App’x 567, 573 (6th Cir. 2008) (Vicodin and marijuana).[vii]

Therefore, the court of appeals held that the evidence supported the district court’s determination that Washington’s statements were voluntary.

As such, the court of appeals affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress.



[i] No. 21-5745 (6th Cir. Decided April 16, 2022 Unpublished)

[ii] Id. at 2-4

[iii] Id. at 6 (emphasis added)

[iv] Id. at 7-8 (emphasis added)

[v] Id. at 9 (emphasis added)

[vi] Id. at 9-10 (emphasis added)

[vii] Id. at 10 (emphasis added)

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