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COA finds probable cause to search car on auto transport

State v. Synika Antonio Kirk, 2019AP175, 9/22/20, District 3 (not recommended for publication); case activity (including briefs)

You know, those semis that carry like 6 or 10 cars. Kirk owned a 1989 Jaguar that was riding on such a vehicle along with several other cars. A Kansas trooper pulled the truck over and asked to inspect the driver’s paperwork. The trooper would testify that the driver’s logbook had an entry he found strange: a two-day stay in Reno, Nevada after the truck was loaded–a stop the trooper called “not normal.” He also didn’t buy the driver’s explanation that he had spent those two days trying to find tires for his truck.

The trooper inspected the bills of lading for the vehicles on the transport, and said his attention was drawn to two: a Chevy Impala and Kirk’s Jaguar. Both vehicles had incomplete entries for the shipper and receiver’s names (no last name) and had multiple phone numbers for the same person. The trooper also didn’t think it would be worth the $900 shipping fee to transport Kirk’s Jaguar across the country.

The trooper asked for and received a key to the Impala, and when he opened it, found a large quantity of marijuana inside. So did he have probable cause to do what he did next: open the Jaguar?

The court of appeals says “yes,” relying on the facts above. Notably, Kirk is hamstrung here by the fact that he lacks standing to challenge either the officer’s random stop of the car transport or his entry into the Impala. He argues that his vehicle’s proximity to the drug-laden Chevrolet wasn’t enough: that a “person’s mere propinquity to others independently suspected of criminal activity does not, without more, give rise to probable cause to search [a] person.” See State v. Andrews, 201 Wis. 2d 383, 396, 549 N.W.2d 210 (1996) (citing Ybarra v. Illinois, 444 U.S. 85, 91 (1979)). But, the court says, there was more here: the similar irregularities in the paperwork for the two vehicles and the driver’s inability to provide a convincing explanation for his stay in Reno.

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