Court affirms firearms conviction after warrantless search

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Evidence that a felon possessed firearms was properly admitted in his criminal case even though authorities lacked a search warrant, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held Wednesday. Authorities relied on permission to search from the man’s live-in girlfriend who said he had sexually assaulted her daughter and placed her in fear for her safety.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Vincent Jones’ arguments that the discovery of guns in a safe in the trailer should have been suppressed. The panel affirmed his conviction of possession of a firearm by a felon.

Jones lived in a trailer in Westville with his girlfriend, Jennifer Kelly, and her minor daughter. In June 2013, the daughter went to a neighbor to call police and report Jones had sexually assaulted her. Police came to the scene and Kelly told officers that she was afraid of Jones, who they later learned was a felon.

Kelly told police Jones kept guns in a safe in the trailer, and she signed papers giving them consent to search the trailer, where firearms were discovered.

On appeal, Jones argued police wrongly removed him from the property, which didn’t permit him a chance to object to the search as it pertained to him, citing Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 (2006). He also claimed the district court was wrong in concluding the guns would have inevitably been discovered.

The appellate panel rejected both arguments. Police knew Jones was a felon, saw knives on a counter near him when they encountered him, and he exited the trailer voluntarily.  “Under these circumstances, it was objectively reasonable for the officers to remove him not only for officers’ safety, but also because they had probable cause to arrest him,” Judge William J. Bauer wrote for the panel in United States of America v. Vincent Jones, 16-4254.

The 7th Circuit ruled the government also met the two-prong test of the inevitable discovery rule — that it had, or would have obtained, independent legal justification that would have led to the discovery of the evidence, and that it would have conducted a lawful search absent the challenged conduct.
“We have considered Jones’ remaining arguments, but none merit discussion,” Bauer wrote.

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