Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Suspicionless Stop In Wake of Gunshots Violates Fourth Amendment

US v. Curry: One night four Richmond police officers were patrolling a neighborhood that “had been the site of frequent gun violence,” including six shootings (two murders) in the past six months. They heard what sounded like a “half dozen gunshots coming from the direction of a street called Walcott Place.” They arrived at Walcott Place about 35 second later, where they spotted several people, including Curry, walking away from the scene. The officers approached these men, shining flashlights at them and demanding that they lift their shirts so the officers could check for weapons. All but Curry complied. When he didn’t, officers tried to pat him down anyway, resulting in a “brief struggle,” after which Curry was handcuffed. Officers “then recovered a silver revolver from the ground near Curry.” After being charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, Curry successfully moved to suppress the firearm. The district court concluded that the officers lacked particularized reasonable suspicion to stop anyone, Curry included, and that the exigencies of the situation did not override that.

A divided panel of the Fourth Circuit reversed. The majority held that the "special needs" doctrine applied, the need in this case being “the prospect that a single, active shooter might continue to threaten the safety of the public.” Judge Floyd dissented, arguing that the special needs doctrine did not apply, nor did the exigent circumstances doctrine (he accused the majority of conflating the two). Curry sough rehearing en banc which was granted.

The full Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's initial grant of Curry's motion to suppress. Judge Floyd wrote the majority opinion (joined by eight others). Focusing only on the exigent circumstances doctrine (the special needs doctrine had never been previously argued by the Government), the court held that while it can sometimes apply in Terry-stop cases, it can only do so were "specific and clear limiting principles" are involved, such as when officers are searching for a particular suspect "implicated in a known crime" within a limited geographic area. Because those factors were not present here and the initial stop of Curry was not appropriate under Terry, suppression was required.

Judge Wilkinson wrote a dissenting opinion, in which he argued that the majority's decision would have wide-ranging ramifications in certain communities and essentially prevent police from responding to crimes as efficiently as possible using emerging data-driven "predictive policing" techniques. Judge Richardson (who wrote the original panel majority opinion) also dissented (joined by five others), arguing that "the touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness, and the officers' response to this evolving exigency was eminently reasonable."

Chief Judge Gregory wrote a concurring opinion in response to Judge Wilkinson's dissent, particularly arguing that the communities he is worried about being victims of under policing due to the majority's opinion have a complicated history with police and they "do not want police officers to be tough on crime, or weak on crime - they want them to be smart on crime." Judge Wynn also wrote a concurring opinion, responding to both of the dissenting opinions. Judge Diaz (joined by Judge Harris) wrote a concurring opinion to "emphasize the criteria under which exigent circumstances may justify a suspicionless stop," relying on the Supreme Court's decision in Edmond. Finally, Judge Thacker (joined by Judge Keenan) wrote a concurring opinion in which she argued that "predictive policing . . . is little more than racial profiling writ large."

 Congrats to the Defender office in EDVA on the win!

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