Wake Forest Law Review

By Sophia Blair

On March 30, 2017, the Fourth Circuit issued a published criminal opinion, United States v. Hill. Donald Hill (“Hill”) pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). However, he appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress his statements and a firearm seized during a traffic stop because he alleged that the police officers’ actions exceeded the scope of the stop. Specifically, he alleged that the stop continued beyond the justifiable amount of time needed, thereby violating his Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Hill’s motion to suppress because the stop’s duration was reasonable to complete the tasks incident to the stop.

Facts of the Stop

On October 20, 2014, two police officers patrolling in Richmond, pulled over a car because it was driving over the speed limit and crossed a double-yellow line. The officers recognized both Jeremy Taylor (“Taylor”), the driver, and Hill, the passenger from previous interactions. After Taylor produced his driver’s license, one of the officers returned to the police cruiser to confirm the identity of both men in the Department of Motor Vehicles database, and to check whether either of the men had outstanding warrants on the National Crime Information Center database. The officer discovered that Taylor’s license was suspended. The officer briefly interrupted writing the relevant summons to check for both men in the PISTOL system, which tracks individuals’ prior contacts with the police. There he found that both men were connected with drug activity and were “likely armed.” The officer in the patrol car called for a K-9 unit and continued writing the summons.

The second officer made small talk with both men while the first officer wrote the summons and asked them three times whether they had drugs or firearms in the car. After the third question, Hill admitted that he had a firearm on his person. The officer shouted “gun” and the K-9 unit arrived on the scene almost simultaneously. The district court determined that twenty minutes elapsed between the initiation of the stop and the time the gun was discovered.

Hill’s Claims

Hill argued that the length of the stop exceeded a lawful duration because the second officer talked to him and Taylor instead of helping the first officer search the databases. He also challenged the call to the K-9 unit and searching the PISTOL database. Hill argued that the cumulative effect was to deprive him of his Fourth Amendment Rights under Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015).

The Duration and Scope of the Stop Did Not Violate the Fourth Amendment

In order to be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a traffic stop must be legitimate at its inception and the officers’ actions during the stop must be reasonably related in scope to the basis for the stop. Because Hill did not contest that the stop was legitimate at its inception, the Fourth Circuit limited its analysis to whether the officers’ actions were reasonably within the scope of the basis for the stop.

Determining the reasonable length of a stop is not a mathematical endeavor; instead a court determines reasonableness by looking at what police in fact do and whether the officers acted reasonably under the totality of the circumstances. Additionally, officers may undertake investigative techniques unrelated to the underlying traffic infraction without offending the Fourth Amendment as long as the activity does not prolong the duration of the stop.

In analyzing the unfolding of the stop at issue, the Fourth Circuit did not observe any evidence that suggested that either of the officers delayed the completion of the traffic stop. The officers accounted for eighteen minutes of the twenty minute stop, and the Fourth Circuit did not find that the additional two minutes unlawfully extended the duration of the stop. Moreover, the first officer had not finished writing the summons when the second officer yelled “gun.”

The Fourth Circuit also held that the officer’s decision to search PISTOL did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the Fourth Amendment does not require the officers to use the least intrusive means possible to complete a stop. Searching PISTOL was material to the officers insuring their safety in furtherance of their duties. Because of the inherent safety risks  during a traffic stop, the Fourth Circuit also held that the second officer’s choice to stand by the stopped vehicle instead of helping to search the database was reasonable. Finally, requesting the K-9 unit did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the call did not extend the duration of the stop.

Disposition

Because the officers exercised reasonable diligence in executing the traffic stop, the stop was not impermissibly prolonged. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Hill’s motion to suppress evidence.

 

By Kelsey Mellan

On February 23, 2017, the Fourth Circuit issued a published opinion in United States v. Hill, a criminal appeal on behalf of two defendants. Defendant-Appellants Darren Hill (“Hill”) and Lloyd Dodwell (“Dodwell”) appealed the Western District of North Carolina’s denial of their motion to suppress evidence pertaining to an allegedly unconstitutional traffic stop in 2012. The Defendants argue this traffic  stop violated their Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the motion to suppress, determining that the stop did not offend its Fourth Amendment jurisprudence at the time it occurred.

 Facts & Procedural History  

On May 2, 2012, Defendants were traveling in an SUV through Henderson County, North Carolina. Deputy David McMurray (“Deputy McMurray”) was patrolling the area when he noticed Defendants’ SUV traveling closely behind another vehicle. Deputy McMurray subsequently pulled over Defendant’s and approached their vehicle. Dodwell was driving and Hill was in the passenger seat. After Deputy McMurray explained the stop, Dodwell admitted to following too closely. Deputy McMurray then asked Dodwell to exit the vehicle and follow him to his patrol car so he could issue a warning ticket. While Deputy McMurray was entering the ticket information, he engaged Dodwell in conversation. Some of Deputy McMurray’s questions pertained to the stop and others ranged to more personal, off-topic questions. Specifically, Deputy McMurray asked Dodwell who owned the vehicle – to which Dodwell answered that he it belonged to either Hill’s girlfriend or sister. Upon questioning, Dodwell also acknowledged that he had previously been arrested for drugs.

Deputy McMurray then returned to the vehicle to speak with Hill to determine who owned the vehicle. While speaking with Deputy McMurray, Hill made numerous statements that conflicted with information Dodwell provided. As he later testified, Deputy McMurray became concerned that some criminal activity was occurring because of Defendants’ contradictory statements and nervous behavior, and the confusion over the owner of the SUV. Moreover, Defendants were traveling from Atlanta which, according to the government, is the “largest source of narcotics on the east coast.” in a type of vehicle commonly used for drug trafficking. After further discussion with each Defendant, Deputy McMurray notified them he was going to call for another deputy so he could run his drug-detection dog around the SUV. He explained that he would only search the vehicle of the drug-detection dog alerted, but would not search if the dog did not alert. Both Defendants consented to this search.

As a result of the search, Deputy McMurray and his team found over $30,000 of bundled U.S. currency, which Deputy McMurray believed to be drug proceeds. During the search, another officer on the scene read Defendants their Miranda rights and each Defendant consented to questioning. The rest of the search revealed no other contraband in the SUV. Ten days later while reviewing the recording of the stop, Deputy McMurray saw that Hill had deposited a bag containing cocaine hydrochloride behind the patrol car’s driver seat.

A grand jury indicted Defendants for possession with intent to distribute at least 500 grams of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Both Defendants filed a motion to suppress which the magistrate joined for hearing. After the hearing, the magistrate recommended that the district court deny Defendants’ motion. Defendants generally objected to the magistrate’s memorandum and recommendation (“M&R”) on the grounds that the traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment. The district court accepted the M&R and denied Defendants’ motion to suppress in full because (1) Deputy McMurray did not unreasonably extend the traffic stop prior to issuing the ticket and (2) Deputy McMurray’s post-ticket extension was justified by both reasonable suspicion and Defendants’ consent.

Defendants’ Fourth Amendment Challenge

On appeal, Defendants argue that Deputy McMurray impermissibly extended the traffic stop both before and after issuing a warning ticket, based on Supreme Court precedent from Rodriguez v. United States and Fourth Circuit precedent set in United States v. Williams. The government argues that any de minimis pre-ticket delay was allowed under governing precedent at the time of the stop. Moreover, the government claims Defendants waived their rights to challenge the reasonableness of the post-ticket extension by failing to sufficiently object on that ground.

The Fourth Amendment protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” According to the Supreme Court in Illinois v. Caballes, a routine traffic stop becomes an unreasonable seizure when law enforcement impermissibly exceeds the stop’s scope or duration. The Supreme Court limited the permissible scope and duration of a traffic stop in Terry v. Ohio. If a traffic stop strays outside the boundaries of its permissible scope or duration, the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule normally prevents the government from using evidence obtained during said search against the victim of the illegal seizure. The Supreme Court explained an exception to this exclusionary rule in Davis v. United States – the good-faith doctrine. This doctrine protects law enforcement action taken in “objectively reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent” at the time of the search or seizure. The Fourth Circuit determined this doctrine applies in this case.

Yet, Defendants asked the Fourth Circuit to analyze Deputy McMurray’s conduct in 2012 under the standards set out in Rodriguez and Williams – cases that were not decided until 2015. Defendants argued that Deputy McMurray violated their Fourth Amendment rights by asking off-topic questions before writing a ticket. But when this search was conducted in 2012, the Fourth Circuit’s binding precedent set in United States v. Digiovanni held that questioning or other activity unrelated to the initial purposes of the stop only rendered the stop unreasonable if the officer “failed to diligently pursue the purposes of the stop.” In Digiovanni, the Fourth Circuit determined that de minimis delay in issuing a ticket warranted suppression only when an officer did not begin, or completely abandoned, actions related to the cited purpose of the stop.

In this case, the Fourth Circuit decided that the record sufficiently demonstrates that Deputy McMurray’s questions were in continuance of the pursuit of activities related to the initial stop. Moreover, the Deputy continued issuing the warning throughout the pre-ticket process. Although his questions may have been off-topic, Deputy McMurray never strayed from diligently pursuing the purposes of the stop. Moreover, Defendants effectively waived their challenge to any post-ticket extension by failing to specifically object on those grounds before the district court. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit deemed this stop constitutional.

 Disposition

Thus, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court.

 

By John Van Swearingen

On Monday, January 23, 2017 the Fourth Circuit issued a published opinion following a rehearing en banc in the criminal case United States v. Robinson. The defendant Robinson appealed his conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), which prohibits the possession of a firearm by a felon. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s denial of Robinson’s motion to suppress evidence of weapon possession, holding that the potential legal status of a concealed weapon does not automatically render that weapon harmless, and therefore, any officer that lawfully stops an individual and reasonably believes that individual to be armed is justified in frisking that individual to secure any weapons.

Facts and Procedural History

On March 24, 2014, an anonymous caller called the Ranson Police Department (West Virginia) to report seeing a black male, the defendant Robinson, in a “bluish greenish Toyota Camry load a firearm [and] conceal it in his pocket” while parked at a 7-Eleven. After this occurred, according to the tipster, the driver of the vehicle, a white female, pulled the Camry out of the parking lot and headed southbound.

This particular 7-Eleven, as several officers would later testify, was located next to the Apple Tree Garden Apartments. The 7-Eleven and the apartment complex were both part of “the highest crime area in Ranson,” especially with regard to drug trafficking, and calls to either location were treated with a heightened sense of alertness.

Two officers responded to the call, and within minutes, spotted the subject Camry containing the defendant and the white female. Neither occupant in the Camry was wearing a seatbelt. The first officer, Officer Hudson, effected a traffic stop for the seatbelt violations. Because the anonymous caller stated that defendant was armed, Officer Hudson asked Robinson to step out of the car.

The second officer, Captain Roberts, opened Robinson’s door and, as Robinson was getting out, asked if Robinson was armed. The Captain later testified that Robinson gave him an “oh, crap” look in lieu of a verbal response. Captain Roberts then frisked Robinson, discovering and securing a loaded handgun from Robinson’s pants pocket.

Captain Roberts, recognizing Robinson as a known felon, then arrested Robinson for illegal possession of a firearm by a felon.

Robinson filed a motion to suppress the firearm, claiming the frisk was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. More specifically, Robinson contended that, while the officers may have reasonably suspected that he was armed, West Virginia’s generally permissive laws regarding concealed carry mean an armed individual cannot be assumed to be dangerous absent other factual information. The United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia denied his motion.

Armed and Dangerous Means Armed and thus Dangerous

Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968), governs the doctrine of weapons frisks by law enforcement officers. If an officer reasonably believes that criminal activity is afoot and suspects an individual is armed and dangerous, that officer may stop that individual and pat down that persons clothing to feel for weapons.

Robinson argued that language of Terry – “armed and dangerous” – requires an officer to reasonably suspect an individual be armed and – as a separate consideration – also dangerous.

Robinson correctly noted that West Virginia generally permits its citizens to acquire permits to arm themselves with concealed weapons. Therefore, Robinson contended, the suspicion that an individual is armed in and of itself does not give rise to suspicion that the individual is dangerous. Robinson conceded that Officer Hudson’s stop of the Camry was lawful. Thus, this challenge turns on the “armed and dangerous” language of the Terry opinion.

Robinson misconstrues both the language of Terry and the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence regard frisks. The Court does use the phrase “armed and dangerous” near the end of the Terry opinion. However, in the preceding discussion regarding the legality of frisks, the Court stated that an officer may frisk a lawfully-stopped individual if “a reasonably prudent man would have been warranted in believing [that individual] was armed and thus presented a threat to the officer’s safety.”

The Court applied the Terry doctrine to traffic stops in Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 112 (1977). The Mimms opinion echoed Terry, holding that an officer’s frisk of a lawfully-stopped individual was proper where the officer reasonably believed the individual was “armed and thus posed a serious and present danger to the safety of the officer.”

The language of the Terry and Mimms opinions is fatal to Robinson’s argument. The phrase “armed and dangerous” does not, as Robinson argued, create a two element test wherein an officer must have reasonable suspicion that an individual is armed and also dangerous. Rather, Terry and its progeny state that, where an individual is reasonably suspected of being armed, they are presumed dangerous as a matter of law and fact.

Robinson’s argument also fails to account for the factual circumstances of his stop. First, an anonymous tip reported a man concealing a gun in a high-crime, high-drug activity area. The tip was then corroborated when the responding officers observed Robinson and the female driver in the blue-green Camry heading south away from the 7-Eleven. Further, Robinson’s “oh, crap” look to Captain Roberts was reasonably perceived as an evasive response to a direct question about being armed.

The Fourth Circuit also noted that widespread legal concealed carry does not render the presence of a firearm somehow less dangerous. The court held that concerns for officer safety logically permit an officer to secure a firearm when that officer lawfully stops an unknown individual who is reasonably suspected of being armed.

In sum, when an individual is lawfully stopped by law enforcement and that individual is reasonably suspected of being armed, that individual is therefore suspected of being dangerous as a matter of law. Therefore, Robinson’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated when he was frisked.

                                                                    Disposition

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Robinson’s motion to suppress the firearm. Robinson was lawfully stopped, and based on the facts of this case, the responding officers reasonably suspected that Robinson was armed and thus dangerous. Therefore, Captain Roberts’ frisk of Robinson was permissible, and the firearm recovered pursuant to that frisk was admissible as evidence against Robinson.

By: Kristina Wilson

On Friday, October 21, 2016, the Fourth Circuit issued a published opinion in the criminal case United States v. Wharton. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s conviction of the defendant for conspiracy, making a false statement, theft, and embezzlement, all in connection with her unlawful receipt of government benefits. On appeal, the defendant argued that the affidavit upon which the search warrant was based was materially false and thus violated her Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision that there was no Fourth Amendment violation because the affidavit’s omitted facts were not material.

Facts and Procedural History

After the death of the defendant’s daughter in 2002, the defendant took her two granddaughters into her home. She began receiving Social Security survivors’ benefits on her granddaughters’ behalf. In 2012, the Government discovered that the defendant’s granddaughters had not lived with the defendant since 2009 and were not receiving their benefits. The Government then launched an investigation into the defendant’s use of the Social Security funds.

Following the investigation, a grand jury indicted the defendant on two counts of theft of government property in violation of 18 USC § 641 and 42 USC § 1381a(a)(3) on January 31, 2013. The grand jury issued a sealed superseding indictment on June 26, 2013, which was unsealed on July 10, 2013. The indictment charged both the defendant and her husband with conspiracy to embezzle, embezzlement, and making false statements. While the indictment remained sealed, on July 1, 2013, a special agent from the Social Security Administrator’s office executed an affidavit in which he asserted that the defendant and her husband lived together in the defendant’s home. The magistrate issued a search warrant based on the agent’s affidavit, and the Social Security Administrator’s office searched the defendant’s home, discovering a number of documents relevant to the criminal charges.

Prior to trial, the defendant moved to suppress all evidence uncovered in the search of her home. The District Court denied her motion to suppress for all evidence except that which was obtained from her second-floor bedroom. Ultimately, the District Court convicted the defendant and her husband for conspiracy to embezzle money in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, making false statements in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1383a(a)(2), and embezzlement in violation of 18 USC § 641.

The Information Was Recklessly Omitted but Not Material

The defendant asserted that special agent’s affidavit was materially false in violation of the Fourth Amendment because it omitted the fact that she and her husband did not live together.

In the affidavit, the special agent asserted that the defendant and her husband lived together on the basis of interviews he conducted with the defendant, her husband, and their children. Both the defendant and her husband stated that they had been married continuously for 43 years and lived together in the defendant’s home. The special agent also discovered that the defendant’s husband’s electricity account provided power to the entire home, not just his basement living space. Additionally, the special agent discovered that Dish Network provided cable television to the entire home with the defendant and her husband both listed as authorized users.

The District Court held that the defendant and her husband did live separately in that the defendant’s husband only occupied the common areas of the home upon invitation and kept the door to his basement living area locked. However, the omission was not material and did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The Omission Did Not Violate the Fourth Amendment

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit applied a de novo standard of review to the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

According to the Fourth Circuit, the District Court properly addressed the defendant’s claim as a Franks v. Delaware question. Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978). Although a Franks analysis usually begins with the threshold question of whether a district court improperly denied an evidentiary hearing, the Fourth Circuit eschewed that preliminary question because the District Court granted the defendant an evidentiary hearing before denying the motion to suppress.

When a defendant asserts that an affiant has omitted material facts in the affidavit, the defendant must prove that the affiant intentionally or recklessly made a materially false statement or omitted material information.

While Franks requires proof of both intentionality and materiality, only materiality was at issue on appeal. An omission is material if it is necessary to the magistrate’s finding of probable cause to support the warrant. When evaluating materiality, a court inserts the omitted facts and then determines whether the corrected affidavit supports probable cause. If it does, there is no Franks violation.

In recent cases United States v. Lull, 824 F.3d 109 (4th Cir. 2016) and United States v. Tate, 524 F.3d 449 (4th Cir. 2008), the Fourth Circuit reversed the defendants’ convictions after concluding that the omitted information in question undermined the entire foundation of the affidavits. In Lull, an officer omitted facts that undermined the reliability of a confidential informant who supplied many of the facts in the affidavit. In Tate, an officer omitted the fact that much of the evidence supporting his affidavit originated from a questionable search of the defendant’s trash. The Fourth Circuit reasoned that if the trash search was illegal, that evidence would have to be suppressed. Without the trash search evidence, the officer’s warrant lacked probable cause.

In contrast, the fact that the defendant and her husband did not live together did not change the fair probability that evidence relating to the defendant’s crimes would be discovered in the common areas of the house. The magistrate was reasonable in concluding that the defendant and her husband lived together because they stated that they lived together, and they shared utilities and cable services, creating a reasonable inference that both individuals used those services throughout the home. Finally, the omitted fact did not call into question the inherent reliability or validity of the affidavit supporting the warrant, unlike in Lull and Tate.

Disposition

Therefore, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s conviction of the plaintiff on all counts.

By Taylor Ey

Anonymous Tip to Police, Pretextual Traffic Stop, and Subsequent Frisk

Today, the Fourth Circuit issued its published in the criminal case of United States v. Robinson, deciding 2-1, the Court reversed and vacated the decision of District Court of the Northern District of West Virginia, holding that Defendant Robinson’s motion to suppress evidence should have been granted.  In this case, the West Virginia police department received an anonymous tip.  The tipper reported that the tipper saw a man load a gun in a 7-Eleven parking lot, the man subsequently concealed the gun, and then left the parking lot in a car.  Only a few minutes passed when the police stopped a car matching the tipper’s description.  The police stopped the car because the driver and passenger’s failure to wear a seatbelt in violation of West Virginia traffic law.  Defendant Robinson was the passenger in the car.  He complied with the police requests to exit the car.  Then an officer frisked Defendant Robinson and found a firearm in one of Defendant Robinson’s pockets.  Defendant Robinson was indicted by a grand jury on one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.  Defendant Robinson sought to exclude the evidence recovered by the officer during the stop and frisk.  The district court referred Defendant’s motion to a magistrate.  The magistrate recommended that the evidence did not indicate that the officer had reasonable suspicion that Defendant was dangerous.  However, the district court did not grant his motion to suppress.  At issue in this case is whether the officer complied with the Fourth Amendment when the officer conducted the stop and frisk.

Under Terry v. Ohio, Whether the Officer Had Reasonable Suspicion that Defendant Robinson Was Both Armed and Dangerous when the Officer Conducted the Stop and Frisk

Under Terry v. Ohio, the test for whether a stop and frisk is lawful is to determine if the officer had reasonable suspicion that the suspect was both armed and dangerous at the time of the stop and frisk.  This question is two-fold: the officer has to have reasonable suspicion that the suspect is armed and that the suspect is dangerous.  In this case, the question of whether the police had reasonable suspicion that Defendant Robinson was armed at the time of the traffic stop and frisk was not at issue due to the anonymous tip.  However, because this case arose in West Virginia, and West Virginia allows its citizens to carry concealed weapons, the question on appeal was whether the police had reasonable suspicion that Defendant Robinson was dangerous at the time of the traffic stop and frisk.

The Court applied the totality of the circumstances test to determine whether the officer had reasonable suspicion that Defendant was dangerous.  First, the Court considered that, in West Virginia, carrying a concealed firearm is not prohibited by law, thus the fact that Defendant was carrying alone was not enough to give the officer reasonable suspicion that he was dangerous because the state legislature decided that its citizens could carry.  The Court noted that this same approach has been adopted by the Third, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits.  The Court was worried that allowing an officer in states that allow for concealed carry to have reasonable suspicion of danger if a suspect is carrying would eliminate Fourth Amendment protections for carriers and would not allow them to exercise their Second Amendment rights.  Further, the Court was concerned that such a rule would create a “serious and recurring threat” to their privacy, and it would give police officers “unbridled discretion.”

Second, the Court looked at the circumstances surrounding the stop.  These included that there was an anonymous tip, that Defendant Robinson failed to answer the officer’s question of whether he had a gun on his person, and that Defendant Robinson was in a “high-crime area” at the time of the stop.  The Court concluded that the circumstances did not give the officer reasonable suspicion.  Instead, Defendant Robinson was otherwise cooperative during his encounter with the police, he never made a gesture that he was reaching for a weapon, and the officer did not give Defendant Robinson enough time to respond to the question about whether he was armed.  Even though Defendant Robinson was in a high-crime area, the Court reasoned that this was just the area where you would expect to find people carrying a weapon to protect themselves.

Looking at the Totality of the Circumstances, the Fourth Circuit Reversed the District Court’s Decision Denying Defendant Robinson’s Motion to Suppress and Vacated His Conviction and Sentence.

The Dissenting Opinion Articulated Three Reasons for Disagreement with the Majority

The three reasons that the dissenting judge articulated for his opinion were (1) that an officer need only reasonable suspicion that the suspect is armed and thus dangerous, (2) that West Virginia allows its citizens to carry a concealed weapon does not minimize the danger to officers and officers should still be allowed to stop and frisk under the Fourth Amendment, and (3) that even though Defendant Robinson may have been innocent, “reasonable suspicion need not rule out the possibility of innocent conduct.”

By Sarah Saint

On February 1, 2016, the Fourth Circuit amended its opinion in the civil case, Aikens v. Ingram (as amended), holding that the Feres “incident to service” test applies to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims alleging constitutional violations that arise out of or in the course of activity incident to federal military service. Because Appellant alleged a constitutional violation that occurred while he was on active duty, while he was deployed, and through his Department of Defense email, Feres bars recovery under § 1983.

The Email Scandal

In 2001, Appellant Frederick Aikens (“Aikens”) was promoted to full colonel of the 139th Rear Operations Center of the North Carolina National Guard. Respondent Peter von Jess (“von Jess”) was named executive officer and a subordinate to Aikens. In December 2002, Aikens gave von Jess a negative officer evaluation report, which von Jess appealed to Respondent William E. Ingram (“Ingram”), arguing that Aikens evaluation was made with malice.

In 2003, while Aikens was deployed to Kuwait and von Jess remained in North Carolina, Paul Jones (“Jones”) and Brian McCarthy (“McCarthy”), information technology personnel, used illegal means to read and forward around 130 of Aikens’ personal emails to von Jess. Von Jess used those emails to compose a damning memorandum to the North Carolina Governor’s chief of staff, alleging that Aikens planned to overthrow the Adjutant General. Von Jess also forward the emails to the Department of the Army Inspector General (“DAIG”).

In May 2004, DAIG found six instances of misconduct on Aikens’ part, even though DAIG concluded Jones and McCarthy improperly accessed Aikens’ emails. DAIG provided such findings to the Governor of North Carolina and Ingram. Ingram forwarded the findings to Lieutenant General Russel Honoré (“Honoré”), who withdrew federal recognition from Aikens, resulting in Aikens’ constructive termination. Aikens subsequently transferred to the retired reserve.

Respondents’ Motion for Summary Judgment

On April 27, 2006, Aikens sued von Jess and Ingram in their individual capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arguing that they facilitated unconstitutional searches and seizures of his personal emails while he was deployed in Kuwait. In support, he claimed that von Jess and Ingram, motivated by revenge, authorized and directed McCarthy and Jones to send Aikens’ incriminating emails to von Jess because of Aikens contentious history with von Jess.

Von Jess and Ingram moved for summary judgment for two reasons. (1) Aikens had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his emails because Army Regulations made clear that emails sent and received over the Department of Defense computer system could be monitored. (2) Aikens’ claims are nonjusticiable under Feres v. United States, 340 U.S. 135 (1950). The district court granted Von Jess’ and Ingram’s motion for summary judgment, which Aikens appealed.

Standard of Review

The Fourth Circuit considered de novo the threshold legal question of whether the district court properly abstained from ruling on Aikens’ claims, taking all facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant.

Mindes Test Has No Place

The district court granted summary judgment on Aikens’ claim for equitable relief, relying on Mindes v. Seaman, 453 F.2d 197 (5th Cir. 1971), which sets forth a four-factor test for reviewability of claims based on internal military affairs. Though in his reply brief, Aikens only requests damages, when he first sued von Jess and Ingram, Aikens also requested equitable relief. Typically, Mindes is only applicable to claims for equitable relief, but Aikens abandoned his claim for equitable relief. Further, the Fourth Circuit found that the Mindes test was inapplicable in this case because, in the Fourth Circuit, the Mindes test has only been applied to internal personnel matters, such as challenges to convening of retention boards and military discharge, which is not similar to the case here of improper email monitoring.

Feres Test Applies to § 1983 Claims

The Fourth Circuit looked at the evolution of the Feres test to determine if Feres barred Aikens from seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Feres first applied to Federal Tort Claims Acts claims, barring government liability for injuries to service persons where the injuries arise out of or are in the course of activity incident to service. The Supreme Court then extended the Feres “incident to service” test to causes of action outside the Federal Tort Claims Act, including for Bivens actions, or constitutional claims brought against federal officers. However, neither the Supreme Court nor the Fourth Circuit had extended the Feres test to apply to constitutional claims brought against state officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

In this case, the Fourth Circuit decided to the Feres test to § 1983 actions against state officers for two reasons. First, suits under § 1983 and Bivens address constitutional violations by government officials, it is logical to extend the Feres test to § 1983 actions when it applies to Bivens actions. Second, courts generally do not expand liability for injuries arising out of military service to maintain separation of powers. Accordingly, the court decided not to allow damages actions pursuant to § 1983 against state officials for injuries suffered incident to service, which is foreclosed against federal officials, when Congress has not expressly authorized them.

Feres Test Applies to Aikens’ Injuries

The Fourth Circuit then addressed whether the Feres test applied to the case at hand by determining whether the search and seizure of Aikens’ emails arose out or of were in the course of activity incident to service. To determine whether Feres applies, courts look to whether specific suits call into question military discipline and decision-making, requiring judicial intrusion upon military matters. The Supreme Court interprets the Feres test broadly. The Feres test applies to all injuries suffered by military personnel that are even remotely related to the individual’s status as a member of the military. Application of the Feres test does not require that the plaintiff be on duty and does not depend on the military status of the defendant.

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit concluded that Aikens’ alleged injuries arose out of activity incident to service because he was on active duty, was deployed in a war zone, and used a computer system set up by the Department of Defense for military personnel. The Court noted that it was irrelevant that Aikens was a National Guardsman because he was serving in a federal capacity when he was called to active duty. Further, the Court found irrelevant that von Jess and Ingram were not in Aiken’s direct chain of command.

Nevertheless, the Court abstained from reviewing Aikens’ § 1983 claim based on the Feres “incident to service” test. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Aikens’ case.

By Anthony Biraglia

In United States v. Kenneth Rush, a criminal case decided and published on December 21, 2015, the Fourth Circuit reversed a West Virginia district court’s denial of a motion to suppress evidence. The Court found that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule did not apply, and that lying about the existence of a search warrant was exactly the type of police conduct that the exclusionary rule guards against. The Court thus determined that evidence found during a search of Kenneth Rush’s (“Rush”) apartment should be suppressed, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Circumstances of the Search and Motion In Limine

Police in Charleston, West Virginia, searched the apartment where Rush was staying pursuant to the consent of a co-habitant, who had earlier told police that she was afraid of Rush and that he was dealing drugs out of the apartment. During the search, a police officer told Rush that they had a warrant to search the apartment in response to his inquiries about why the officers were conducting the search. The officers knew that they did not, in fact, have a valid warrant to search the apartment. The search turned up crack cocaine and digital scales, which Rush admitted were his. However, the police did not arrest Rush at that time, nor did they arrest him when he made a voluntary trip to the police station to answer questions about his supplier. He was eventually arrested and charged with one count of knowingly and intentionally possessing with the intent to distribute twenty-eight grams or more of cocaine base under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1).

Rush moved in limine to suppress the evidence seized. While the district court did find a violation of Rush’s Fourth Amendment right to object to the search, it determined that the officers’ lie about the search warrant was a “justifiable attempt to protect” the co-habitant and that exclusion would have little deterrent effect on police conduct. Rush pled guilty while reserving the right to appeal the district court’s decision on his suppression motion. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reviewed the district court’s legal conclusions de novo and factual findings for clear error.

The Good-Faith Exception to the Exclusionary Rule is Not Applicable

The exclusionary rule is designed to deter violations of the Fourth Amendment by police through the exclusion of evidence that is the fruit of an unlawful search. Even though the search in this case was unlawful, the United States argued that the evidence should still be admissible under the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. The good-faith exception applies where the police act with an objectively reasonable, good-faith belief that their conduct is lawful. The Supreme Court has applied the good-faith exception in cases where the police relied upon a facially valid warrant, and where police relied upon erroneous information from the Clerk of Court’s office concerning an outstanding warrant.

The Court found that a deliberate lie about the existence of a warrant was unlike other situations where the good-faith exception has applied. The officer who made the statement in this case was a sixteen-year veteran of the police force that the Court reasoned could not have believed that it was lawful to lie about the existence of a search warrant. It is settled law that such lies are violative of the Fourth Amendment.

The government argued that the officers did not intend to violate Rush’s rights, but rather lied to him in order to protect the co-habitant. Whether or not this was truly their motive, (and the Court cited evidence showing that it was likely not) the test for the good-faith exception is subjective rather than objective. The the police officers’ subjective intentions are therefore irrelevant.

Exclusion of this Evidence will Deter Police Misconduct

Unlike the district court, the Fourth Circuit found that excluding the evidence would likely deter police officers from violating the Fourth Amendment in similar circumstances going forward. Quoting the Sixth Circuit, the Court stated “so long as there is an exclusionary rule, it seems safe to say that it will apply to officers who enter and remain in a house based on false pretense.”

Reversed and Remanded

For the above reasons, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision on the suppression motion and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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By Sarah Saint

On October 23, 2015, in the criminal case of United States v. Dmytro Patiutka, the Fourth Circuit issued a published opinion affirming the district court’s grant of Defendant Dmytro Patiutka’s motion to suppress evidence. In this case, the Fourth Circuit answered the United States of America’s interlocutory appeal to the district court’s ruling arguing in the alternative that the search was either incident to an arrest or fell within the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement automobile exception.

State Troopers Searched Patiutka’s Car Without Warrant

A patrol car camera recorded the following stop. Virginia State Trooper G.S. Cox pulled over an SUV with tinted windows and tinted license plate cover when the driver failed to maintain lane on April 27, 2013. Patiutka gave the trooper a license with the name “Roman Pak.” When the trooper asked Patiutka for his birth date, Patiutka told him a date eight years from the date on the license. The trooper testified he thought Patiutka was lying in violation of Virginia law, but the trooper asked Patiutka no more questions about this. The trooper ran the supplied information through police databases, received no results, and told Patiutka he was “free to go.”

Once Patiutka began to walk to his car, the trooper asked if he could search Patiutka’s car, which the trooper believes he received consent for, and signaled to other troopers to begin searching the car. One trooper found a bag containing a credit card reader and a suitcase containing four unopened iPads. Patiutka asked the trooper who had stopped him why his car was being searched. The trooper responded that Patiutka consented. Patiutka asked for them to stop. Then, when another trooper announce Patiutka was under investigative detention, the first trooper put handcuffs on Patiutka and took him back to the patrol car. The troopers then found a credit card embosser, credit card re-encoder, and blank credit cards. At the end of the search, a trooper transported Patiutka to the state police station and read him his Miranda rights. He was questioned at the station and made incriminating statements.

On January 13, 2014, the Government filed a criminal complaint against Patiutka, charging him with access device fraud and aggravated identity theft. On March 20, 2014, a grand jury indicted Patiutka.

Patiutka Moved to Suppress Evidence from Warrantless Search

Patiutka moved to suppress the physical evidence found in his car as well as all statements and evidence that flowed from the warrantless search. The Government claimed that the statements and evidence were admissible under the vehicle exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. The district court wholly rejected the Government’s assertions. The Government then filed an interlocutory appeal.

Standard of Review

The Fourth Circuit reviewed the district court’s legal determinations underlying the grant of the motion to suppress evidence de novo and the factual findings for clear error.

Fourth Amendment Prohibits Warrantless Searches Save For Small Exceptions

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. Warrantless searchers are presumed unreasonable except in a limited number of cases. The Government argued that the warrantless search was reasonable for two reasons in the alterative: either the search was incident to Patiutka’s arrest or the search fell within the automobile exception.

Incident to Arrest Exception Does Not Apply Here

Officers may search a vehicle if the arrestee is near the car or it is reasonable to believe there is evidence incident to the arrest near the car. If the search begins before arrest, officers must have probable cause to arrest prior to the search. The Government contends that the officers had probable cause because Patiutka gave false identity information, but the Fourth Circuit did not find this persuasive because the district court found the officer did not have cause to arrest Patiutka before the search based on the evidence provided. Because the officers did not have cause to arrest Patiutka for any reason when they continued the search without Patiutka’s consent, the incident to arrest exception cannot apply and the search violated the Fourth Amendment.

Automobile Exception Does Not Apply Here

Officers may search a vehicle if they have probable cause it contains evidence of any criminal activity. The district court found that when the officers only found a credit card reader and suitcase with new iPads, this was not enough to provide a basis for probable cause after Patiutka withdrew consent. The officers should have questioned Patiutka about the contents found during the consensual search. Because the officers had no probable cause to search, the automobile exception cannot apply and the search violated the Fourth Amendment.

Government Tried to Apply the Collective-Knowledge Doctrine

The Government argued that the collective-knowledge doctrine gave the searching officers probable cause to search the car. The collective-knowledge doctrine allows a court to substitute the knowledge of the instructing officer to the acting officer. However, the officers did not communicate with each other, so the doctrine cannot save the search, and no officer had sufficient knowledge to justify a warrantless search.

Fourth Circuit Affirmed the District Court’s Judgment

The Fourth Circuit found neither of the Government’s contentions that a Fourth Amendment exception applied here persuasive. Thus, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment to grant Patiutka’s motion to suppress evidence.

 

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By Whitney Pakalka

On October 22, 2015, the Fourth Circuit issued its published opinion in the criminal case of United States v. Slocumb. The Fourth Circuit reversed the District Court for the Western District of Virginia’s denial of a motion to suppress evidence. Because there was no particular and objective basis that created a reasonable suspicion for officers to detain Slocumb, the Fourth Circuit reversed the denial of Slocumb’s motion.

Slocumb’s Arrest and Conviction 

On March 18, 2013, Andre Slocumb, his girlfriend, Sierra Lewis, and an infant were in the parking lot of a salvage yard around midnight, transferring a child car seat from one vehicle to another. This same parking lot was chosen by the Culpeper, Virginia Police Department as a staging area prior to executing a search warrant on a nearby home. Approximately ten officers arrived at the parking lot, including Lieutenant Timothy Chilton. Chilton approached Slocumb and Lewis to inquire about their presence because the parking lot was known for criminal activity. Slocumb informed Chilton that he was there to pick up Lewis, whose car had broken down. Officer Chilton though Slocumb began hurrying Lewis, acted evasively, did not make eye contact, and gave mumbled responses to his questions.

When another officer asked Slocumb for identification, Slocumb provided a false name. The name given came back as valid for someone that matched Slocumb’s appearance. One of the officers then asked Lewis for Slocumb’s name, and she identified him as Hakeem Jones, a different name than Slocumb had given. Slocumb was placed under arrest for providing a false name, and officers discovered close to $6,000 on his person. Lewis gave consent for the officers to search the car that Slocumb had arrived in to pick her up. The officers found methamphetamine, cocaine powder, cocaine base, and a small amount of marijuana in the car.

Slocumb was indicted by a federal grand jury on three counts, and filed a motion to suppress the physical evidence seized by officers and incriminating statements he made after his arrest. The District Court denied Slocumb’s motion, finding that the officers had reasonable suspicion to justify Slocumb’s initial detention and had probable cause to arrest him. Slocumb pleaded guilty and was sentenced to ninety-four months on all three counts, to run concurrently. He appealed the denial of his motion to suppress, arguing that his Fourth Amendment right had been violated because he was detained by the police without a reasonable suspicion he had violated the law.

Fourth Amendment Right to be Free from Unreasonable Search and Seizure 

The Fourth Amendment provides the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. In considering when a police stop constitutes an unreasonable seizure, The Supreme Court has held that an officer may detain a person to conduct a brief investigation if he “observes unusual conduct which leads him reasonably to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot.” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968). In order for the police to have a reasonable basis for stopping an individual, “the officer ‘must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which . . . reasonably warrant that intrusion.’” Id. at 21.

The Fourth Circuit applies a totality of the circumstances test in considering whether an officer had a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity justifying a stop. The Court cautioned that the government “must do more than simply label a behavior as ‘suspicious’ to make it so,” but must “articulate why a particular behavior is suspicious . . . given the surrounding circumstances.” United States v. Massenburg, 654 F.3d 480, 491 (4th Cir. 2011).

The Officers in this Case Did Not Have a Reasonable Basis for Detaining Slocumb

 The Fourth Circuit concluded that the factors considered by the District Court did not satisfy the totality of the circumstances test. The District Court considered, among other things, the lateness of the hour that Slocumb was in the parking lot, the fact that the parking lot belonged to a business that had been closed for several hours, and that it was a high crime area. The Fourth Circuit found that all of these considerations could contribute to a finding of a reasonable suspicion, however these “objective factors ‘do[] little to support the claimed particularized suspicion as to [Slocumb].’” Id. at 488.

The District Court had also considered Slocumb’s particular behavior in hurrying Lewis, avoiding eye contact, and giving mumbled answers. The Fourth Circuit found this behavior to be insufficient to support reasonable suspicion. The Court noted that behavior that has supported a reasonable suspicion included attempts to flee or “more ‘extreme’ or unusual nervousness or acts of evasion.” United States v. Foreman, 369 F.3d 776, 784 (4th Cir. 2004). Heavy breathing, sweating, and trembling hands were suggested by the Court as behaviors that may demonstrate an unusual nervousness, and thus support a reasonable suspicion. The Court found that Slocumb did not attempt to evade officers, but instead acknowledged them and answered their questions in a way that was consistent with his behavior. The Court found that the police had “no more reason to suspect that Slocumb was engaged in criminal activity than [they did] to believe his stated purpose and corresponding actions.”

The Fourth Circuit Reversed the District Court’s Denial of Slocumb’s Motion to Suppress

Because the police could not provide a sufficient objective and particular basis to create a reasonable doubt that would justify detaining Slocumb, the Fourth Circuit reversed the District Court’s ruling, vacated Slocumb’s conviction and sentence, and remanded for further proceedings.

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By Eric Jones

On June 16, 2015, the Fourth Circuit issued a published opinion in the civil removal case Yanez-Marquez v. Lynch.  Maria Yanez-Marquez (Yanez) was petitioning to the Fourth Circuit for review of a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decision dismissing her appeal from an order for her removal from the United States.  The Circuit Court held that the violations of Yanez’s Fourth Amendment rights were not egregious, and thus denied her petition for review.

 

The Execution of the Search Warrant

In June of 2008, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were granted a search warrant for 402 Harbor Drive, Annapolis, Maryland, because it was suspected that the landlord was harboring illegal aliens.  The warrant was to be executed between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., and described the residence as a “single-family home.”  The warrant was broad and authorized agents to seize “illegal aliens, travel documents, financial records, and photographs of harbored aliens.”  At approximately 5:00 a.m. on June 30, ICE agents knocked on the door of the residence and entered to begin the search.  According to Yanez, the agents burst into the bedroom where she and her partner were sleeping, and pointed guns at them while demanding that they “don’t move” in both English and Spanish.  Upon being informed that Yanez was pregnant, the agents called a female agent to assist and reassure her.  Yanez was never handcuffed or led outside of the dwelling, but was questioned for 5-10 minutes about her identity.  As a result of the search, the agents arrested Yanez’s partner, and had her sign several forms indicating that Yanez had been illegally present in the United States since April of 2007.  The agents also seized Yanez’s pay stubs, tax returns, and photo albums as they left at 9:15 a.m.  The ICE contested Yanez’s statements regarding the timing of the search as well as the force used during the search.

 

The Removal Proceedings

Yanez was issued a notice to appear before an Immigration Judge (IJ) for removal proceedings.  On February 10, 2010, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) filed a submission of intended evidence, including the forms Yanez signed during the search, the warrant itself, and the affidavit supporting the warrant.  Yanez filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that during the search, the agents “egregiously violated” her Fourth Amendment rights.  The IJ found that, accepting Yanez’s claims as true, her rights had not been “egregiously violated.”  Although the execution of a search warrant prior to the time it was granted would constitute a violation of Yanez’s Fourth Amendment rights, the IJ reasoned that being early by a single hour “does not amount to conduct that ‘shocks the conscience,’” and thus was not an egregious violation.  As to the force used, the IJ found that Yanez had made no showing of excessive force, noting that agents executing a search warrant are reasonably cautious about dangerous situations.  The IJ found that the agents had acted reasonably, had not brandished their guns for longer than necessary to assure their safety, and had gotten a female agent to aid and comfort Yanez as soon as was reasonable.  For these reasons, the IJ denied the motion to suppress the evidence.  On December 13, 2010, the IJ found that the DHS had satisfied their burden, and ordered that Yanez be removed from the United States and returned to El Salvador.

On appeal to the BIA, the BIA held that the exclusionary rule, which operates to exclude evidence obtained in violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, does not apply in civil removal proceedings unless the violations were egregious.  The BIA then, relying on the reasoning of the IJ, held that the violations had not been egregious, and thus affirmed the IJ’s order.

 

The Applicability of the Fourth Amendment in Civil Removal Cases in the Fourth Circuit

Initially, the Fourth Circuit noted that the question of the applicability of the Fourth Amendment exclusionary principle was a matter of first impression for the Circuit.  The Court began by analyzing the Supreme Court of the United States’ ruling in INS v. Lopez-Mendoza, 468 U.S. 1032 (1984).  In Lopez-Mendoza, the Supreme Court held that the ordinary Fourth Amendment exclusion, which barred all evidence obtained through any violation of the Fourth Amendment, was inapplicable to civil removal proceedings because the costs of exclusionary principle, including dramatically increased complexity to the streamlined process of removal, outweighed the benefits of the exclusionary principle.  Additionally, because civil removal proceedings are not criminal and do not punish but merely prevent continued illegal activity, the Court reasoned that the Fourth Amendment protections were not as critical.  Four Justices in Lopez-Mendoza vigorously dissented, and the majority opinion opined in dicta that “egregious violations” and “widespread” violations by officers may nevertheless render the exclusionary principle applicable in some instances.

In this case, the Fourth Circuit held that the exclusionary principle must apply to all egregious violations of the Fourth Amendment because “[t]o hold otherwise would give no effect to the language used by the Supreme Court in Lopez–Mendoza expressing concern over fundamentally unfair methods of obtaining evidence.”  The Circuit Court further held that refusing to apply the exclusion “would ignore the fact that eight justices in Lopez–Mendoza seem to have agreed that the exclusionary rule applies in removal proceedings in some form.”  Thus, in the Fourth Circuit, an petitioner in a civil removal case must show not only that her Fourth Amendment rights were violated, but also that those violations were “egregious.”

 

The Standard for “Egregiousness” of a Fourth Amendment Violation

The Lopez-Mendoza Court stated “egregious violations of Fourth Amendment or other liberties that might transgress notions of fundamental fairness and undermine the probative value of the evidence obtained” might be reason to apply the exclusion. Despite the use of “and” by the Supreme Court, the Fourth Circuit held that a petitioner can succeed if she can show either (1) egregious violation or (2) a violation that undermines the probative value of the evidence.  To hold otherwise, the Circuit explained, would dramatically reduce the application of the rule because nearly all evidence obtained through egregious violations is physical evidence, which has the same probative value regardless of the manner of acquisition.  Examples given by the Circuit of egregious violations included “a stop based on Hispanic appearance alone,” “repeatedly ignor[ing a] detainee’s request for counsel,” and “a nighttime warrantless entry into the aliens’ residence.”

The Fourth Circuit rejected the Ninth Circuit’s standard for egregiousness, which focuses on the “bad faith” of the agents, and embraced the “totality of the circumstances” test used by the Second, Third, and Eighth Circuits.

 

Yanez’s Alleged Fourth Amendment Violations

Yanez’s first allegation of egregious violation of her Fourth Amendment rights was that the warrant listed her residence as a “single-family home,” when it was in fact a multi-unit dwelling.  The Fourth Circuit explained that the warrant is sufficiently tailored when an agent executing it can “reasonably ascertain and identify the intended place to be searched.”  In holding that the warrant used to search Yanez’s home was adequate, the Circuit emphasized that the premises had been under ICE surveillance and agents had no reason to believe multiple families dwelled there, it was a small single-story home, and the premises had just one mailbox.  Thus, because the outward appearance is reasonably identified by a description of a “single-family home,” the Fourth Circuit rejected Yanez’s first argument.

Yanez next argued that, upon entry, the agents should have known it was a multi-family dwelling because “the bedroom door was locked,” which transforms it into a separate dwelling.  However, because it is not unusual for a bedroom door to be locked and there was no other indication in the home that it was a multi-unit dwelling, the Circuit held that the ICE agents had not made any mistake in proceeding with the warrant, and even if they had, it was an innocent and reasonable mistake.

Yanez’s final argument was that entering the home at 5:00 a.m. constituted a “nighttime search,” which fell outside of the warrant and implicates higher scrutiny because of the heightened intrusion.  The Fourth Circuit agreed that because a daytime search is defined as between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., the search of Yanez’s residence was by definition a nighttime search.  The Fourth Circuit went on to hold that nighttime execution of a daytime warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, absent consent or exigent circumstances.  Thus, because there was no consent given by either Yanez or the judge who issued the warrant, nor were there any additional facts which may have constituted exigent circumstances justifying a nighttime search, the Fourth Circuit held that the ICE had violated Yanez’s Fourth Amendment rights by executing the search.  However, when considering the totality of the circumstances, the Circuit held that this violation was not egregious.

Facts to support a finding of egregiousness included the fact that it was a nighttime search and the fact that the search was of Yanez’s home, where her privacy interests are strong.  Supporting the non-egregiousness of the search included the fact that no ICE agents threatened, coerced, or physically abused Yanez, nor did they offer or promise her anything in exchange for cooperation.  Additionally, Yanez was not handcuffed, nor was she removed from the home.  Furthermore, there was no evidence of diminished capacity, the questioning was not particularly lengthy, and there is no evidence that the agents were motivated by racial considerations.  Finally, the Circuit explained that presence of a valid search warrant for the premises reduces the harm of the intrusion, and the agents executing the warrant did not use force beyond that necessary to secure their safety.  The Fourth Circuit thus held that the nighttime search, while a violation, was nevertheless not an egregious violation of Yanez’s Fourth Amendment Rights.

 

The Fourth Circuit Denied Yanez’s Petition for Review

Because the alleged violations of Yanez’s Fourth Amendment rights were all either not violations at all or not egregious, the Fourth Circuit denied Yanez’s petition for review of the IJ’s order for her removal from the United States.

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By Malorie Letcavage

Overview

In a published opinion of a civil case issued on April 28, 2015, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision to grant summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity in the case of Raub v. Campbell. The appellant, Brandon Raub, argued that his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures, and his First Amendment right to free speech were violated by the appellee, Michael Campbell. Raub also sought injunctive relief even if his constitutional claims failed. In reviewing the district court’s grant of summary judgment, the Fourth Circuit used a de novo standard. The Fourth Circuit upheld the district court’s grant of summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity because it found that Raub’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated, he had not pled sufficient facts for a First Amendment claim and there was no abuse of discretion in the district court’s dismissal of his injunctive claim for relief.

Factual Background

In the summer of 2012, two Marine veterans that had served with Brandon Raub contacted the FBI about Raub’s Facebook posts. Raub posted threatening messages and employed extremist language in numerous posts. The FBI and local law enforcement visited Raub to question him about his Facebook activity. The agents reported that Raub’s behavior was unusual because during the interview he was preoccupied, could not maintain eye contact and displayed extreme mood swings.

The agents contacted Michael Campbell, a certified mental health “prescreener” affiliated with the local emergency services. Campbell recommended Raub be detained for evaluation, at which point the officers took Raub to the local jail. Campbell interviewed Raub and noted the same behavior the officers had described; Raub was distracted, and had trouble answering questions. Campbell concluded Raub might be paranoid and delusional.

Campbell petitioned and was granted a temporary detention from the magistrate because Raub was displaying signs of psychosis. Four days into the temporary detention, the court ordered that Raub be admitted to the hospital for thirty days. However, a few days later Raub was released because the court found that the petition had insufficient factual allegations. Raub then filed suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against Campbell. The district court granted Campbell’s motion for summary judgment due to qualified immunity and denied Raub’s request for injunctive relief.

42 U.S.C. 1983

This statute provides an avenue to pursue a civil action for a deprivation of constitutional rights. It lays out that any person acting under the color of state law (which, as in this case, can include a mental health professional associated with emergency services) who subjects anyone to a “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” will be liable to the party injured.

Appellant’s Fourth Amendment Rights Were Not Violated

The court explained that qualified immunity analysis has two prongs: 1. Whether the plaintiff has established the violation of a constitutional right and 2. Whether that right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation.

The court decided to start its evaluation with the second prong and held that Campbell’s conduct was not proscribed by clearly established law. The court noted that a seizure requires probable cause but there is a lack of clarity in the law concerning seizures for psychological evaluations. The court then went on to cite the major cases in the Fourth Circuit which all held that that seizures for psychological evaluation were upheld when the person was a threat to himself or others. The court held that due to the totality of the factors, including the content of Raub’s Facebook posts, the initial observations by the officers and Campbell’s observations of Raub, Campbell did not violate Raub’s Fourth Amendment rights because his petition to detain was reasonable based on existing precedent.

Appellant Failed to Allege Sufficient Facts for a First Amendment Claim

            Though Raub contended that Campbell only recommended detention based on Raub’s “unorthodox political statements,” the court found that Campbell had numerous other reasons for recommending detention. The court cited the content of the Facebook posts, Raub’s behavior during the interview, and the increasingly threatening nature of his posts. Even if the political statements were part of the decision, the court found Campbell had plenty of other reasons for Raub to be detained. Thus the court held that Raub did not sufficiently allege facts for a First Amendment violation and Campbell was entitled to qualified immunity.

Appellant’s Claim for Injunctive Relief Was Properly Rejected 

            The court reviewed the denial of injunctive relief for abuse of discretion, and it found none. Under §1983 when a plaintiff is seeking injunctive relief, he needs to demonstrate a real or immediate threat that he will be wronged again in a similar way. However, Raub only alleged that his political beliefs would subject him to seizures and retaliation in the future. The court found that this claim was too speculative and did not reach the level needed to grant equitable relief.

Conclusion

The court did not find that Raub’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated nor did it find that he had alleged sufficient facts for a First Amendment claim. It also found no abuse of discretion in the dismissal of the claim for injunctive relief. Therefore, the court affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment.

By Dan Menken

Today, in the unpublished opinion of United States v. Hawkins, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the conviction of Collin Hawkins for being a felon in possession of a firearm.  Hawkins was sentenced to 63 months’ imprisonment and two years of supervised release.

Hawkins Participated in Carjacking

On November 22, 2006, the Defendant participated in the carjacking and robbery of a Baltimore taxi driver.  When the Defendant was arrested, the arresting officer witnessed the Defendant reach for his waistband and subsequently discovered a firearm.  The Defendant was initially convicted of (1) carjacking, (2) possessing and brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, and (3) being a felon in possession of a firearm.  He was sentenced to 360 months’ imprisonment.  On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed the Defendant’s convictions on the first two counts because they were improperly joined to the third count.  On remand, the government elected not to retry the first two counts, and the Defendant was eventually sentenced to 63 months’ imprisonment.

On appeal, Hawkins argued that the gun underpinning his conviction should have been suppressed because the search and seizure violated the Fourth Amendment.  Additionally, Hawkins argued that he had ineffective assistance of counsel.

Mandate Rule Bars Fourth Amendment Appeal 

The Fourth Circuit looked to whether the mandate rule precluded the Defendant from raising the Fourth Amendment claim.  The mandate rule generally bars litigation of issues that could have been, but were not, raised before remand.  Exceptions to the mandate rule include circumstances where (1) a litigant can demonstrate that the legal landscape has dramatically changed, (2) significant new evidence has come to light, or (3) a “blatant error in the prior decision will, if uncorrected, result in a serious injustice.”  United States v. Bell, 5 F.3d 64, 67 (4th Cir. 1993).

The Fourth Circuit concluded that the error here was not blatant.  The Fourth Circuit and other circuits have determined that grabbing, touching, or securing a waistband may be evidence of the possession of a firearm when considering the totality of the circumstances.  Because the Defendant waived his Fourth Amendment claim by not raising it on his first appeal and no exception applied, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the mandate rule barred his Fourth Amendment claim.

Ineffective Counsel Claim Fails

Additionally, the Defendant asserted that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise his Fourth Amendment claim previously.  To raise a cognizable ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a Defendant must demonstrate that (1) his appellate counsel was deficient and (2) he suffered prejudice as a direct result of this deficiency. Bell v. Jarvis, 236 F.3d 149, 164 (4th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

The Court noted that the law presumes effective assistance.  In order to overcome that presumption, the Defendant must show that their appellate counsel ignored clearly strong arguments on appeal.  Based on the success of the Defendant’s counsel in reducing Defendant’s sentence on the previous appeal, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the Defendant’s ineffective counsel claim failed.

Affirmed

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court and upheld Hawkins’ sentence.