Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Criminal acts after illegal search not intervening event

US v. Gaines:  The government appealed a district court’s decision to grant a motion to suppress in this case, in which the district court held that a gun found on a passenger in a vehicle illegally stopped by the police should be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree. Gaines was a passenger in a vehicle stopped by police who testified they observed a crack in the rear windshield the vehicle from across an intersection and through a tinted window. The district court did not find the police officers’ testimony credible, and determined that the stop in this case was supported by reasonable suspicion and was unlawful.

The government appealed under an attenuation doctrine theory, in which an assault on the police officers by the defendant after the police located a gun on the defendant served as an intervening event, purging the taint of the initial illegal stop. This government theory relied heavily upon the Fourth Circuit’s decision in U.S. v. Sprinkle, in which the Fourth Circuit recognized that it has "strong policy reason for holding that a new and distinct crime, even if triggered by an illegal stop, is a sufficient intervening event to provide independent grounds for arrest."

Here, however, the Fourth Circuit disagreed with the government’s application of Sprinkle to the facts in Gaines’ case, as the attenuation doctrine placed greatest legal importance and emphasis on the discovery of the evidence, rather than the seizure of evidence. The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court, finding that Gaines’ illegal conduct occurred after the police had located the gun in his waistband. Thus, because the gun was located prior to any criminal act by Gaines, his criminal act did not serve as an intervening event for purposes of the attenuation doctrine.

Way to go, FPD in MD!

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