Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Court Upholds Terry Patdown in High-Crime Area

US v. Black: Black was walking home in a "high crime" area of Richmond when he passed a marked police car. An officer in the car engaged Black in conversation and became suspicious that Black might have a weapon in his pocket. When asked, Black took his left hand out of his coat pocket, but only after being asked twice. At that point, the officer saw a bulge that he suspected was a firearm. Asked what he had in his pocked, Black said it was just money and an ID. Black then put his hand back in his pocket. At that point, the officer said, "take your hand out of your pocket, I don't want to have to shoot you." Another officer then patted down Black and identified the bulge as a firearm. After being hand cuffed, Black admitted that he did not have a permit to carry the weapon and was a convicted felon.

Black was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. He moved to suppress the gun, arguing that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to seize and pat him down. The district court denied the motion. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed. On appeal (at least), everyone agreed that the encounter between Black and the officers was consensual and did not implicate the Fourth Amendment until the officer said. "I don't want to have to shoot you." Based on the totality of circumstances up to that point, the Fourth Circuit held that there was reasonable suspicion to believe Black possessed a weapon.

Judge Gregory dissented, writing that he "cannot accept that Fourth Amendment protections are suspended or reduced in so-called 'high-crime' neighborhoods.'" For Judge Gregory, the seizure took place when Black was first asked to remove his hand from his pocket.

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