United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
L. WOOTEN CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court for consideration of the Motion
to Suppress filed by Defendant Carvalous Lyles. ECF No. 30.
For the reasons stated below, the motion is denied.
Factual and Procedural History
Government charged Lyles in a single-count indictment with
being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition on or
about December 28, 2017. ECF No. 12. He filed a motion to
suppress, asserting that the vehicle search that led to the
discovery of the firearm and ammunition at issue was
unconstitutional. ECF No. 30. After the parties briefed the
motion, ECF Nos. 32, 38, the Court held a suppression
hearing. At the hearing, the Court heard testimony from
Sergeant Moody and Investigator Gilliam, both with the
Columbia Police Department (CPD); the Honorable Russell T.
Spencer, a City of Columbia municipal court judge;
Investigator Simon with the federal public defender's
office; and Ranzina Addison, Lyles' then-girlfriend.
Additionally, the Court reviewed a video recording from the
body camera of Sgt. Moody. At the conclusion of the hearing,
the Court took the matter under advisement.
on the testimony at the suppression hearing and the body
camera video, the Court makes the following findings of fact.
On December 28, 2017, CPD officers located Lyles, who had
active arrest warrants, sitting in a vehicle in a strip mall
parking lot. Sgt. Moody and Inv. Gilliam approached the
driver's side of Lyles' vehicle,  told him to step
out of the vehicle, and arrested him without incident.
Gilliam took Lyles away from the vehicle, Sgt. Moody was
standing in the doorframe and smelled marijuana emanating
from the vehicle. He then immediately began to search
He observed a razor blade in plain view on the driver's
seat and a Crown Royal bag sticking out from underneath the
seat. He dumped the contents of the Crown Royal bag onto the
seat and found two small bags of suspected marijuana, a pill
bottle containing suspected crack, loose .22-caliber
ammunition, and various other items.
point, Inv. Gilliam approached the vehicle and discussed with
Sgt. Moody and an unidentified CPD officer what to do with
the vehicle. Inv. Gilliam said that he would obtain a search
warrant for the vehicle and he later did so. The vehicle was
then towed to a CPD facility. After Inv. Gilliam returned
with the warrant, the vehicle was searched, and that search
uncovered a .22-caliber rifle in the trunk, in addition to
the marijuana, crack, and ammunition that Sgt. Moody
originally found in the Crown Royal bag.
Government argues that the vehicle search was constitutional
for two reasons: (1) the automobile exception applies because
Sgt. Moody smelled marijuana in the vehicle; and (2) the
inevitable discovery doctrine applies because the firearm and
ammunition would have been discovered during an inventory
search of the vehicle. Lyles responds by arguing (1) that
that automobile exception does not apply because Sgt.
Moody's testimony that he smelled marijuana was not
credible; and (2) that the CPD tow policy did not require the
vehicle to be towed and that it was not a true inventory
search because it was a pretext for an unconstitutional
automobile exception was established in Carroll v. United
States, which held that a warrantless search of a
vehicle is not unreasonable, and therefore does not violate
the Fourth Amendment, if the police have probable cause to
believe that the vehicle contains contraband. 267 U.S. 132,
158-59 (1925). In United States v. Ross, the Supreme
Court held that the scope of the search authorized by the
automobile exception “is no broader and no narrower
than a magistrate could legitimately authorize by warrant. If
probable cause justifies the search of a lawfully stopped
vehicle, it justifies the search of every part of the vehicle
and its contents that may conceal the object of the
search.” 456 U.S. 798, 825 (1982).
Fourth Circuit has held that the smell of marijuana alone
provides probable cause to justify a vehicle search.
United States v. Scheetz, 293 F.3d 175, 184 (4th
Cir. 2002). Thus, if Sgt. Moody's testimony that he
smelled marijuana is credible, he was justified in searching
Court carefully considered the testimony of Sgt. Moody and
the other witnesses, as well as the body camera video of the
incident. The factors the Court considered while evaluating
Sgt. Moody's testimony included his demeanor and
appearance on the witness stand, his recollection of the
incident, any bias that he may have, and consistency between
his testimony and that of other witnesses and other evidence
at the hearing. In light of those and other factors, the
Court concludes that his testimony that he smelled marijuana
in Lyles' vehicle was credible. The Court notes that,
while Sgt. Moody did not mention on the body camera video
that he smelled marijuana, the evidence offered at the
suppression hearing, including his sworn testimony, supports
the conclusion that he smelled marijuana in the vehicle. That
evidence includes the facts that the incident report and
supplemental report that he prepared shortly after the
incident reflected that he smelled marijuana in the vehicle,
he was in a position to have smelled marijuana in the
vehicle, and user-quantities of marijuana were ultimately
found in the vehicle. Accordingly, pursuant to Scheetz,
the vehicle search was constitutional pursuant to the