Monday, December 21, 2015

Acquiescence After Abandonment Avoids Fourth Amendment Problems

US v. Stover: Stover was sitting in a parking lot in a SUV, along with a passenger, when police arrived, Police decided to investigate because the SUV had out of state plates, was in a high crime area, and had not moved in some time. When an officer approached the SUV, Stover got out, opened the rear driver's side door, then walked to the front of the SUV and tossed a gun away. At all times, the officer was ordering Stover to get back in the car, but Stover never said anything. He only got back in the car once the gun had been tossed away. The gun was recovered and Stover was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. He moved to suppress the gun, arguing that the police didn't have reasonable suspicion to justify a stop. The Government agreed, but argued that Stover wasn't "seized" until the gun had been tossed away (and thus abandoned) because he hadn't acquiesced to any of the officer's commands up to that point. The district court agreed and denied the motion.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed, 2-1 noting that the question was not whether Stover was seized, but when he was seized. The court held, contrary to the Government's position, that Stover was seized when the officers pulled up and began giving him orders, for at that point he would not have felt that he was free to leave. However, the court agreed with the Government that Stover's conduct after that point showed that the district court did not clearly err in concluding that he did not acquiesce until after the gun had been tossed away. The court distinguished prior case where someone acquiesced before the discovery of contraband and noted that things might be different if Stover had dropped the gun while he remained seated in the car, as per the officer's orders.

Judge Gregory dissented, arguing that while the majority used the right analysis, it did not consider all the relevant facts and reached the wrong conclusion.

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