U.S. v. Whitehead – Case Brief Summary (Federal Court)

U.S. v. Whitehead, 428 F.Supp.2d 447 (E.D. Va. 2006) involved the question of whether a permissive user of an automobile had standing to challenge the warrantless search of it.

In Whitehead, the police received a complaint regarding a fight at 968 Marcus Drive in Newport News, Virginia. Id. at 449.

When the police arrived at the address they were informed by witnesses that Andre Whitehead ("Mr. Whitehead"), one of the men involved in the fight, had a gun in a nearby vehicle. Id. at 449.

Upon further inquiry, the officers learned that the owner of the vehicle was Mr. Whitehead's wife, who eventually consented to a search of it. Id.

When the vehicle was searched, the police found a handgun. Mr. Whitehead was charged with various offenses, including removing or altering a serial number on a firearm. Id. at 449.

He filed a motion to suppress the gun found as a result of the warrantless search of the motor vehicle. Id. at 450.

The Government responded to the motion by contending that Mr. Whitehead had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the vehicle, and therefore had no standing to challenge the search. Id. at 450.

The Whitehead Court held that Mr. Whitehead did have standing to challenge the search. Id. at 451.

The court explained:

In this case, Defendant was not the owner of the vehicle that was searched. However, during the hearing, Mrs. Whitehead testified that Defendant provided money for fuel and maintenance of the vehicle, kept personal items in the vehicle, and used the vehicle as his primary mode of transportation. Mrs. Whitehead also stated that the vehicle was Defendant's vehicle and the only reason Defendant did not drive the vehicle was because he did not possess a driver's license. Defendant had authority to have others drive him places in the vehicle.

Defendant has provided evidence that shows that he had continuous access to the vehicle, unlimited use of the vehicle, and the ability to exclude others from the vehicle. See Rusher v. U.S., 966 F.2d 868 at 875 4th Cir., 1992; United States v. Fernandez, 430 F.Supp. 794, 798 (N.D.Cal.1976) (reasonable expectation of privacy when defendant made substantial contributions to the rent, was free to come and go, maintained residence and visited frequently); United States v. Sanchez, 943 F.2d 110 (1st Cir. 1991)114 (driver had no reasonable expectation of privacy in vehicle absent a history of regular use or a more intimate relationship with the vehicle's owner). Moreover, here Defendant provided regular maintenance on the vehicle and was married to the owner. Given the totality of the circumstances, Defendant has established a reasonable expectation of privacy in the vehicle. Accordingly, the Court finds that Defendant has standing to challenge the validity of the search. (Id.)