Monday, November 02, 2015

Lack of Particularized Evidence of Wrongdoing Dooms Stop

US v. Slocumb: A bunch of police officers arrived at the parking lot of a business (closed for the night) that they were going to use as a staging area for executing a search warrant nearby. The lot itself was known as a "place for drug activity."  Slocumb was there, along with his girlfriend and their child. Slocumb was transferring a car seat from one car to another. Slocumb explained that his girlfriend's car had broken down and he had come to retrieve her and the child. During the conversation Slocumb "did not make eye contact and gave mumbled responses," which the officer considered suspicious. Another officer said (to the first officer, not to Slocumb directly) that they were "not allowed to leave" and the rest of the officers went to execute the warrant. The officer left behind to guard Slocumb and his girlfriend later said that when he asked Slocumb about "his knowledge of drugs at the target house" he began acting "increasingly nervous and [did] not make eye contact." Slocumb, at some point during the conversation, told the officer his name was Anthony Francis. A second officer arrived and asked the girlfriend for Slocumb's name, to which she answered "Hakeem," a name "the officers recognized as someone who was under investigation for drug trafficking." Slocumb was arrested for providing a false name. Officers recovered $6000 in cash from Slocumb and drugs from where he had been sitting in his car. Slocumb admitted the drugs were his and that his girlfriend knew nothing about them. Slocumb unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence recovered from him and the car.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of the motion to suppress. The court held that although there were several general factors that might have supported reasonable suspicion to detain Slocumb, the only thing that might provide particularized suspicion of wrongdoing - Slocumb's own behavior - was not sufficient to meet that threshold. He did not flee, was not evasive with the officers, and his other behavior was not indicative of wrongdoing. Thus, the court concluded, viewed "in their totality, the factors cited by the district court do not amount to reasonable suspicion to justify Slocumb's seizure."

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