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United States v. Samilton.

No. 21-6150. 12/20/2022. W.D.Kan. Judge Matheson. Fourth Amendment Search and Seizure—Investigatory Stop—Reasonable Suspicion—Motion to Suppress.

December 20, 2022

A hotel clerk called 911 to report that a car with a male and a female occupant had been in the hotel parking lot for several hours and the male passenger was waving a gun around inside the vehicle. The hotel was located in a high-crime area, and the clerk did not believe the man was a hotel guest. When Sergeant Garrett arrived, he observed Samilton in the passenger seat making furtive movements and multiple hand movements, which he interpreted as trying to hide a firearm. He also heard a noise that sounded like either a firearm or a firearm magazine had been thrown from the vehicle and hit the pavement. Sergeant Garrett opened the passenger door and asked Samilton what had been tossed out the window. Samilton denied tossing anything and denied having a gun. Sergeant Garrett performed a consensual frisk of Samilton but did not find a weapon. He then sat Samilton in his police vehicle and again asked Samilton whether there was a gun in the car. Samilton gave evasive responses and ultimately stated that there was no gun in the vehicle. Sergeant Garrett returned to the car and asked the driver whether there was a gun in the car. The driver eventually admitted there was a gun on the passenger side of the car. The driver allowed Sergeant Garrett to search the car, and he found a live 9-millimeter round on the floor. Sergeant Garrett inspected the passenger seat and the area outside the sedan several times but found no gun. He returned to his police vehicle, placed Samilton in handcuffs, and began to enter Samilton’s and the driver’s information into a police database. Samilton confirmed that he was a felon. Sergeant Garrett resumed searching for the firearm and found it shortly thereafter, concealed under the car’s passenger seat. Samilton was indicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm. He filed a motion to suppress the firearm, arguing that Sergeant Garrett had unreasonably prolonged the traffic stop in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The court denied the motion, and Samilton was found guilty. The district court sentenced him to 120 months in prison, revoked his supervised release term on an unrelated offense, and imposed an additional 14-month sentence.

On appeal, Samilton argued that the district court erred in denying his motion to dismiss because reasonable suspicion of criminal activity no longer existed after the initial search of the sedan and surrounding area failed to produce a firearm. His argument focused on the approximately seven-minute window between when Sergeant Garrett concluded his initial search of the car and surrounding area and when he learned that Samilton was a felon. The encounter between Samilton and Sergeant Garrett was an investigative stop, which is constitutional if it is justified at its inception and the officer’s actions during the detention were reasonably related to the initial circumstances justifying the interference. However, an investigative stop becomes unconstitutional if it is unreasonably prolonged. The Fourth Amendment permits a police officer to conduct an investigative stop if the officer has a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity that is supported by articulable facts. Behaviors such as furtive movements, nervousness, and inconsistent or evasive answers to an officer’s logical questions are appropriate factors to consider in determining whether reasonable suspicion exists. Here, Sergeant Garrett observed specific facts supporting a reasonable suspicion that Samilton had engaged in criminal activity by possessing the firearm, including the noise that sounded like a gun or magazine hitting the pavement and Samilton’s furtive movements and evasive answers. Further, the driver admitted there was a gun on the passenger side of the car, and Sergeant Garrett found a live 9-millimeter round on the floor near the passenger seat, where Samilton had been sitting. Therefore, reasonable suspicion developed during the initial search to extend the stop beyond its initial scope. Moreover, Sergeant Garrett undertook reasonable and diligent efforts to confirm his suspicion in the approximately seven minutes between when he concluded his initial search and when he learned that Samilton was a felon, so he did not unreasonably extend the stop. Therefore, Samilton’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated and the firearm was properly admitted as evidence at trial and was a proper basis to revoke Samilton’s supervised release.

The denial of the motion to suppress was affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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