United States v. Johnson (10th Cir. August 2022)

The Federal Docket

August 22, 2022

Nathaniel Johnson was arrested after confronting a federal agent on a greyhound bus, after which DEA agents searched his backpack and found methamphetamine. Johnson appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress, in which he argued that the agents conducted an illegal search of his backpack while on the bus and then again back at the DEA office.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit held that, while the agents had probable cause to arrest Johnson after the confrontation on the bus and to seize his backpack as potentially containing evidence of a crime, they lacked authority to search the inside of his backpack without a warrant, in which the meth was hidden within a bundle of clothes, while on the bus and again at the DEA office. Both searches were warrantless and did not fall under any exception to the warrant requirement. The Court held that the plain view doctrine did not apply since the agents had clearly gone inside the contents of the backpack, which were not in plain view, in an “exploratory manner.”

Appeal from the District of New Mexico
Opinion by Moritz, joined by Ebel and Kelly

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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