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United States v. Courtland Lenard Turner – US Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

October 13, 2016

No. 15-50788
Plaintiff – Appellee
Defendant – Appellant

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas
Before WIENER, CLEMENT, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.

GREGG COSTA, Circuit Judge:
The central issue in this case is whether a law enforcement officer’s scanning of the magnetic stripe on the back of a gift card is a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. We join two other circuits in holding that it is not.

Defendant Courtland Turner was riding in a car driven by Roderick Henderson that was pulled over for lacking a visible license plate light. Henderson failed to show the officer a valid driver’s license, providing him instead with a Texas identification card. Turner likewise provided the officer with an identification card.

United States Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit
FILED October 13, 2016
Lyle W. Cayce, Clerk


The officer retreated to his patrol car to conduct a records check and verify Turner’s and Henderson’s identities. In doing so, he discovered that Turner had an active arrest warrant for possession of marijuana. As a result, the officer asked Turner to exit the vehicle; he complied. As Turner exited the vehicle, the officer observed an opaque plastic bag partially protruding from the front passenger seat. It appeared to the officer that someone attempted to conceal the bag by pushing it under the seat.
After placing Turner in the patrol car while dispatch confirmed the warrant, the officer asked Henderson what was inside the bag. Henderson handed the officer the bag and said that “we”—apparently referring to Turner and himself—purchased gift cards. The officer opened the bag and saw approximately 100 gift cards. He then asked Henderson whether he had any receipts for the gift cards. Henderson responded that he did not and that “we” bought the gift cards from another individual who sells them to make money.
After conferring with other officers about past experiences with stolen gift cards, the officer seized the gift cards as evidence of suspected criminal activity. Henderson was ticketed for failing to display a driver’s license and signed an inventory sheet that had an entry for 143 gift cards. Turner was arrested pursuant to his warrant.
The officer, without obtaining a search warrant, swiped the gift cards with his in-car computer. Unable to make use of the information shown, the officer turned the gift cards over to the Secret Service. A subsequent scan of the gift cards revealed that at least forty-three were altered, meaning the numbers encoded in the card did not match the numbers printed on the card. The investigating officer also contacted the stores where the gift cards were purchased—a grocery store and a Walmart in Bryan, Texas. The stores provided photos of Henderson and Turner purchasing gift cards.

Turner was charged with aiding and abetting the possession of unauthorized access devices. He moved to suppress evidence of the gift cards, challenging both the roadside seizure of the cards and the subsequent examination of the magnetic stripes. The district court denied Turner’s motion, finding that, although Turner had standing to seek suppression, there was no constitutional violation because (1) Henderson provided consent for the seizure of the gift cards and (2) the later examination of the cards did not constitute a search. Turner entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving his right to appeal the suppression ruling.


“When examining a district court’s ruling on a motion to suppress, we review questions of law de novo and factual findings for clear error.” United States v. Hearn, 563 F.3d 95, 101 (5th Cir. 2009). We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, United States v. Hernandez, 279 F.3d 302, 306 (5th Cir. 2002), and may “affirm the district court’s ruling . . . based on any rationale supported by the record.” United States v. Waldrop, 404 F.3d 365, 368 (5th Cir. 2005).
As the party seeking suppression, Turner “has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the evidence in question was obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.” United States v. Smith, 978 F.2d 171, 176 (5th Cir. 1992) (citing Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 131 n.1, 133–34 (1978)). That burden includes establishing standing to contest the evidence, United States v. Iraheta, 764 F.3d 455, 460–61 (5th Cir. 2014), and showing that the challenged government conduct constitutes a Fourth Amendment search or seizure. Smith, 978 F.2d at 176.