In the wake of last Friday’s “Trifecta” (my words) when the D.C. Circuit remanded three criminal appeals, another divergent panel vacated a district court that had denied a motion to suppress physical evidence and a statement gained as a result of a warrantless seizure.
In United States v. Castle a divided Circuit panel overturned the district court, finding the police officers’ street apprehension of Harold Castle to have been unreasonable and built on the officers’ flimsy inferences and the Trial Judge’s “generalized findings regarding ‘the neighborhood.’” (Slip Op. at 3). Speaking for the majority, Senior Circuit Judge Edwards found that the officers had no reasonable basis to detain appellant and question Castle, and suppressed the evidence therefrom. The officers claimed that Castle was acting furtively and they intuited that he must have known of their presence in an unmarked vehicle, because he lived in an area with a high incidence of drug trafficking. However, Circuit Judge Edwards demolished those claims, one-by-one, liberally sprinkling his opinion with citations to a number of key precedents worthy of defense counsel’s reading and study.
First, Judge Edwards addressed the governing legal framework. He observed that “‘[u]nder the Fourth Amendment our society does not allow police officers to “round up the usual suspects.”’” (Slip Op. at 3) (quoting United States v. Laughrin, 438 F.3d 1245, 1247 (10th Cir. 2006)). “‘An officer relying on his or her ‘knowledge of [an individual’s] criminal record’ is ‘required to pair’ that knowledge with ‘”concrete factors” to demonstrate that there [is] a reasonable suspicion of current criminal activity.’” (Slip Op. at 3) (quoting United States v. Foster, 634 F.3d 243, 247 (4th Cir. 2011) (emphasis added)). Not only must there be “’‘objective indications of ongoing criminality,’” (Slip Op. at 4) (quoting United States v. Monteiro, 447 F.3d 39, 47 (1st Cir. 2006)), “[t]he law also makes clear what is eminently logical. In order to find that a person is evading the police, there must be evidence that the person has knowledge of a police presence.” (Slip Op. at 4) (citing Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 124 (2000)). “Similarly, in the context of a reasonable, articulable suspicion analysis, ‘furtive gestures “are significant only if they were undertaken in response to police presence.’”” (Slip Op. at 4) (quoting United States v. Brown, 33 F.3d 1161, 1168 (D.C. Cir. 2003)) (internal quotations omitted)). “In both instances,” the Court found, “the putatively evasive or furtive conduct cannot provide the necessary evidence of knowledge of a police presence. There must be independent evidence from which that knowledge can be inferred.” (Slip Op. at 4) (Citing, inter alia, Wardlow, 528 U.S.at 124; Brown, 334 F.3d at 1168).