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A Defendant Has No Legitimate Expectation of Privacy in a Package Shipped by an Unknown Sender to a Fictitious Name at a Vacant Apartment, Wisconsin Court of Appeals Holds

 

"The Fourth Amendment protects real people, not false identities created by drug dealers," says Van Hollen.  "Dwan Earl had no reasonable expectation of privacy in a package shipped by an unknown sender to a fictitious recipient at a vacant address." 

 

MADISON Adopting arguments made by attorneys from the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals held today that Dwan J. Earl failed to establish a legitimate expectation of privacy in a package shipped by an unknown sender to a fictitious recipient at a vacant Kenosha apartment.  An earlier search of the package by the shipping company revealed marijuana, and ultimately led to Earl's Kenosha County conviction on a charge of possessing marijuana with intent to deliver.

 

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen praised the Wisconsin Court of Appeals's decision and opinion.  "The Fourth Amendment protects real people, not false identities created by drug dealers," said Van Hollen.  "Dwan Earl had no reasonable expectation of privacy in a package shipped by an unknown sender to a fictitious recipient at a vacant address."

 

A Federal Express (FedEx) employee advised the Kenosha County Sheriff's Department that several packages had recently been shipped by their office to a vacant apartment in Kenosha.  After FedEx received another package for delivery to that address, narcotics officers checked the package with a narcotic-sniffing dog, who confirmed the presence of drugs.  The FedEx employee opened the package and discovered plant material that tested positive for marijuana.  Accompanied by a Kenosha County sheriff's deputy, the FedEx employee took the package to the address, where they were approached by Earl.  Earl told the driver he was picking up the package for the listed recipient, "Mark Harris."  Earl took the package.  He was later arrested and charged with possessing marijuana with intent to deliver. 

 

Earl filed a motion in Kenosha County Circuit Court to prevent the State of Wisconsin from using the marijuana as evidence against him, claiming the State violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  The Wisconsin Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that Earl failed to meet his burden to establish a legitimate expectation of privacy in the FedEx package.

From the court's decision and opinion:

 

The package in this case involves more (or less) than just a false name. Here, Earl provided no information about the sender. The package was addressed to both a fictitious name and a vacant apartment, leaving nothing at all to link the package to Earl. After flagging down the FedEx driver, Earl identified himself, and stated that he was picking up the package for Mark Harris. The objective manifestations of Earl's intent all lead to a conclusion that he sought to disassociate himself from the packagenot that it was intended for him. Stated differently, there was nothing on the surface to indicate that Earl had any connection with the package, much less any dominion or control over it. Earl has failed to meet his burden to establish that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the package at the time of the search.

 

While we agree that the expectation of privacy when using an alias to send or receive mail is something society may accept as reasonable, the coupling of a false name and a false address, along with an unknown sender and a statement that the package belongs to someone else, is not. We conclude that Earl did not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the package intercepted by FedEx and later searched.

 

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals's decision and opinion appears on the court's website:


http://www.wicourts.gov/ca/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=36881

 

The Kenosha County District Attorney's Office represented the State of Wisconsin in Kenosha County Circuit Court.  Assistant Attorney General Christopher G. Wren represented the State in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.