Is a Shoebox Like a Suitcase?

This morning the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued an opinion in United States v. Taylor, affirming the district court’s suppression of evidence (a handgun and ammunition) found in a shoebox.  Judge Gilman wrote the opinion for the court, joined by Judge Daughtrey.  Judge Kethledge dissented.  His dissenting opinion begins:

The majority today extends to shoeboxes a degree of Fourth Amendment protection that our court has previously afforded to luggage. I agree that our precedents permit this extension, but I do not think they compel it. I dissent because I think the extension unwise.

The apartment’s tenant here gave consent for the officers to search it. I think that consent ought to be effective as to an unsecured container on the premises, absent a clear indication that some other person exclusively controls the container. Luggage might routinely meet that test, but shoeboxes I think should not, absent some unusual circumstance not present here. It should take more than a shoebox to vitiate a resident’s consent to search the premises.

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