A Pyrrhic Victory

The definition of a pyrrhic victory may well be you won your case in the United States Supreme Court. And then you end up losing. On remand from Byrd v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 1518 (2018), holding that defendant had standing in his rental car, defendant loses on the merits because there was probable cause for the search of his car because of the admission there was a blunt in the car. United States v. Byrd, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 14758 (3d Cir. May 8, 2020):

The officers here developed probable cause to search the vehicle when, in response to questioning, Byrd acknowledged that he had a “blunt” in the car. The officers reasonably understood the term “blunt” to refer to a marijuana cigarette and took Byrd’s statement to indicate he had marijuana in the car. In a related context, we have held that “the smell of marijuana alone, if articulable and particularized, may establish not merely reasonable suspicion, but probable cause” to search a vehicle. United States v. Ramos, 443 F.3d 304, 308 (3d Cir. 2006). Even more so than the smell of marijuana, Byrd’s admission that he might have a blunt in the car gave the officers an articulable and particularized basis to believe the vehicle contained drugs. Byrd’s admission, coupled with the knowledge that Byrd was nervous, had a significant criminal history, and had used an alias, established a fair probability that illegal drugs would be found in the car and gave the officers probable cause to search for contraband.

Byrd contends that any probable cause to search for the blunt was limited to the passenger area of the vehicle and did not justify the further search of the trunk. We disagree. “[T]he police need have no more exact suspicions to search a trunk than are required to search the passenger compartment under the automobile exception, nor need they have independent reason to believe that the contraband for which they are searching is located specifically in the trunk.” United States v. Rickus, 737 F.2d 360, 367 (3d Cir. 1984); see also United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 825 (1982). The officers here had probable cause to search the entire vehicle for drugs, and they needed nothing more to justify a search of the trunk.