Motorcycle for-sale sign allowed search of suspect's home, 8th Circuit rules

A man with a felony record wound up sentenced to a new 34-month prison term because he put a for-sale sign on a motorcycle at his Kansas City home.

If the sign hadn’t been there, police would have needed a warrant to enter his yard, which was fenced and posted with “beware of dog” signs, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday, upholding his conviction and sentence for illegal possession of a firearm.

Police focused on defendant Chris C. Bausby after the former owner of the bike happened to see it and called authorities, who entered the yard and confirmed it was stolen. When Bausby arrived, he tried to explain that the motorcycle and another vehicle had been legally purchased, as he had paperwork to prove, but was arrested.

A search warrant was then obtained for his home, where authorities found a 12-gauge shotgun. Bausby, who could not legally own a firearm due to his record, was charged and convicted of being a felon in possession, according to the Kansas City Star.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Bausby’s efforts to suppress the shotgun evidence. Police did have appropriate basis to enter the his yard, and it was not unreasonable for authorities to arrest him and obtain the search warrant before obtaining all relevant information, a three-judge panel held (PDF).

“Bausby took affirmative steps to draw the attention of the public to the front yard of his residence,” wrote the majority. “Specifically, he used this area to display the motorcycle and other items he was selling to the public who passed by his residence.”

A concurring judge said the yard was within the curtilage of Bausby’s home but the Fourth Amendment was not violated because circumstances justified police entry.

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