Firearm Suppression in Federal Court

A recent opinion in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, resulted in suppression of a firearm seized during an invalid inventory search of a vehicle and its contents following a traffic stop. The defendant, who was a passenger in the vehicle, was charged with felon in possession of a firearm. The District Court found the “so-called inventory search … objectively unreasonable, pretextual and illegal.”

The basis for the initial stop of the vehicle was not at issue; the vehicle was at the time uninsured. Following the stop by Adrian Police, the vehicle was to be impounded. However, the department’s standardized criteria for inventory searches was not followed, and property in the vehicle was not listed on the requisite form.

The District Judge found that the officer suspected drug-activity – for example, the defendant had almost $10,000.00 on his person, “bundled up like he’s been selling dope,” according to the officer – and searched the vehicle and contents, not as a proper inventory search but as a means to possibly find incriminating drug-related evidence. The court wrote, “A search is unconstitutional if the evidence establishes that the ‘police acted in bad faith or for the sole purpose of investigation’ in conducting an inventory search … Officers cannot hide an investigative search under the pretext of an inventory search.” (internal citations omitted). The court also noted, “Essential to a valid inventory search is the presence of good faith and the absence of police motive to circumvent the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement by calling a search for evidence of a crime, an inventory search.”

The Judge also rejected the Government’s claims that the defendant consented to a search of the bag containing the firearm, that the search was permissible as a legitimate Terry v. Ohio protective search, and that the evidence would have been inevitably discovered. The court noted that by the time the firearm was found the defendant and the driver had been detained over forty-four minutes. Two additional passengers, a White female and a Black male, had been released. Neither the driver, a White woman, nor the defendant, a Black man, were advised of any rights to refuse the officer’s orders; the court also noted that patdowns by the officers were only conducted on the two males.

The defendant was represented by attorney Mitchell T. Foster. The order in United States v. Johnathan Ketzner, Case No. 20-20346, by U.S. District Judge Victoria A. Roberts, is available through the CDRC at

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor