State v. McKeever

State v. McKeever, 2015 MT 177 (June 24, 2015) (McGrath, C.J.; McKinnon, J., concurring) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether district court properly denied McKeever’s motion to suppress.

Short Answer: Yes.


Facts: In December 2012 a police officer stopped McKeever’s car after recognizing him as a person with a suspended driver’s license. The officer noted that McKeever was nervous, trembling, and swallowing frequently. After confirming McKeever’s license was suspended, the officer placed McKeever under arrest. McKeever consented to a search of his vehicle, and a second officer arrived and conducted a pat-down search, which revealed a prescription medication bottle for a drug called Alprazolam in the cuff of McKeever’s pants leg. The label indicated the prescription was for someone else.

One or both of the officers opened the bottle and saw that it contained tissue paper over a few pills. McKeever said he did not know how he got the bottle or why it was in his pants cuff. At some point one of the officers handcuffed him and told he would be taken to the detention center.

The state charged McKeever with felony criminal possession of dangerous drugs.

Procedural Posture & Holding: McKeever moved to suppress the evidence, and the district court denied the motion. McKeever pled guilty but reserved the right to appeal his motion to suppress. McKeever was sentenced to a three-year deferred sentence. He appeals and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: The evidence does not show that McKeever had a reasonable privacy interest in the contents of the prescription bottle. Therefore, there was no search implicating the Fourth Amendment. The first search, which found the bottle in the pants cuff, was incident to arrest and therefore lawful. McKeever does not contend otherwise. McKeever challenges the opening of the pill bottle as a second search that required a warrant. A voluntary relinquishment in an item is akin to abandonment when determining whether the person had a protectable expectation of privacy. Here, the totality of the circumstances show that McKeever had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the pill bottle. He disclaimed knowledge of where it came from, claimed no ownership, and the name on the bottle was not his.

Justice McKinnon’s Concurrence: Justice McKinnon concurs in the judgment but would affirm on different grounds. She would hold that McKeever had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of the pill bottle, but that the search was not unreasonable as a search incident to arrest, and the pill contents would have inevitably been discovered pursuant to the inventory search exception to the warrant requirement.