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Name: United States v. Cook
Case #: 13-10233
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 08/13/2015

Warrantless search of defendant’s backpack for weapons after his arrest was proper even though he was face down on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back and surrounded by officers at the time of the search. During a drug investigation, undercover DEA agents identified Cook as a possible drug supplier, and believed he had transported drugs in his backpack. He was arrested in front of his coconspirator’s house. While he was face down on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back, agents searched his backpack for weapons but did not find any. After moving Cook, they searched his backpack more thoroughly and found MDMA and LSD. Cook was charged with various drug crimes. He moved to suppress the drugs found in his backpack on Fourth Amendment grounds but the district court denied his motion. Cook appealed after he was convicted. Held: Affirmed. If the first search of Cook’s backpack was valid, then the second warrantless search was permitted because the backpack remained in the legitimate uninterrupted possession of the police. (United States v. Burnette (9th Cir. 1983) 698 F.2d 1038, 1049.) The search incident to arrest exception to the warrant requirement allows an officer to search the arrestee’s person and the area “within his immediate control,” which is defined as “the area from within which he might gain possession of a weapon or destructible evidence.” (Chimel v. California (1969) 395 U.S. 752, 763.) Here, the first search was a valid search incident to arrest. Although Cook was face down on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back, there was still a possibility that he could break free and reach for a backpack next to him. Handcuffs can and do fail on occasion. Furthermore, officers could reasonably fear for their safety because guns were found in Cook’s coconspirator’s house. Additionally, a crowd had gathered and one of those bystanders could have intervened. The court distinguished Arizona v. Gant (2009) 556 U.S. 332.