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United States v. Newman

argued: July 7, 1982.



Seitz, Chief Judge, Van Dusen and Sloviter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Sloviter


SLOVITER, Circuit Judge.

Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3731, the government appeals the district court's order suppressing certain evidence seized by law enforcement officials during a search of defendant's office pursuant to a warrant. The evidence of the articles seized was the basis for defendant's subsequent indictment. We hold that the evidence should not have been suppressed, and therefore reverse.


On July 30, 1981, agents of the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Bureau conducted a warrant-authorized search of defendant Newman's office in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. The warrant was issued on the basis of the affidavit of a special agent from the Bureau. The affidavit recited that on May 6, 1981 a named employee of Newman had provided information that he had seen guns in Newman's apartment and office, particularly a shotgun in the corner of Newman's office which Newman had told him "was for protection"; that on May 12, 1981, a confidential informant had stated that he had seen a shotgun located in the same corner of the office; that on June 24, 1981, an undercover agent had entered Newman's office and observed "a long, blue barreled shotgun" in the same corner; and that on July 28, 1981, the affiant verified that Newman was a convicted felon, which would have rendered his possession of a shotgun a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(h). App. at 6a-7a. The affidavit concluded with the affiant's statement that he had reason to believe, based upon his experience as an agent of the Bureau, that Newman's office contained "a long blue barrelled shotgun and ammunition for the operation of the shotgun and other fruits and instrumentalities of the previously described crime." App. at 7a-8a. The search warrant, issued on July 29, 1981, authorized a search of Newman's office for "a long blue barreled shotgun, any and all ammunition for the shotgun, any and all documentation of acquisition of the shotgun, ownership and possession of the shotgun along with documentation of ownership, possession or control of the office."

In the course of the search of Newman's office, the agents seized, inter alia, the shotgun described in the affidavit, a variety of ammunition found in Newman's desk, a.38 caliber revolver found in a closed briefcase located on a credenza in the office, and numerous documents found both in the briefcase and elsewhere in the office. Thereafter, Newman was indicted on two counts of violating 18 U.S.C. App. § 1202(a) (1), count 1 based on his alleged possession of the shotgun. Newman moved to suppress the evidence seized in the search of his office on the ground, inter alia, that the search violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment.

Following a hearing, the district court entered an order on February 18, 1982 granting the motion to suppress "with respect to the seizure of the handgun obtained by a search of a closed briefcase on the credenza in the defendant's office," and denying the motion to suppress "in all other respects." The order further stated that the court would "supplement this ruling with appropriate findings of fact and conclusions of law." In its supplemental opinion, delivered orally on February 26, 1982, the district court distinguished between the validity of the search of the office pursuant to a "search warrant limited to a search of the premises for the weapon and ammunition and documentation of ownership", App. at 60a, and the search of the briefcase itself. The court concluded that the search warrant

was a proper and valid warrant for a search of the premises known as Mr. Newman's office and the premises which actually were searched, and that that would include and there was probable cause for the agents to search the fixtures in that office . . . for the documentation of ownership of the office and of the shotgun and for ammunition, and that the warrant was not a valid warrant for a search of the briefcase which was on the credenza, and that the agents acted unreasonably in extending their search under that warrant or incident to that warrant to the briefcase which was on the premises, because there was an insufficient basis for them reasonably to believe that they would find the objects authorized by the warrant to be searched for and seized in the briefcase.

App. at 62a-63a. The district court therefore stated that "the motion of the defendant to suppress will be granted as to those items found in the briefcase and denied as to all other matters seized." App. at 63a.


The government contends that the district court's holding that the warrant for the office did not encompass the briefcase "is contrary to the basic principle that a warrant-authorized search of a place may encompass any containers in which objects named in the warrant might be found." Government's Brief at 5. We agree. The district court apparently was under the impression that the warrant should have specifically designated the briefcase as an area to be searched. App. at 62a. However, an authorized search may encompass any containers in which the objects may reasonably be found. See United States v. Morris, 647 F.2d 568, 572-73 (5th Cir. 1981). This principle was recently reaffirmed by the Supreme Court, which stated,

A lawful search of fixed premises generally extends to the entire area in which the object of the search may be found and is not limited by the possibility that separate acts of entry or opening may be required to complete the search. Thus, a warrant that authorizes an officer to search a home for illegal weapons also provides authority to open closets, chests, drawers, and containers in which the weapon might be found. . . . When a legitimate search is under way, and when its purpose and its limits have been precisely defined, nice distinctions between closets, drawers, and containers, in the case of a home, or between glove compartments, ...

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