On November 14th, 2014, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decided the United States v. Walker [i], which serves as an excellent review of the law pertaining to reasonable suspicion required to conduct an investigatory stop. The relevant facts of Walker, taken directly from the case, are as follows:
The facts relied on by the district court in denying Walker’s motion to suppress are not disputed. Shortly before 1:00 a.m., a caller informed emergency dispatch of a drive-by shooting at 1405 Idaho Street in Des Moines, Iowa. The dispatcher reported to police that the caller saw two African-American males getting into a “Suburban,” which then headed east on Cleveland Avenue. Officer Todd Wilshusen, on patrol nearby, responded. He knew that a witness in a recent murder investigation resided at the reported address, and that a suspect in the murder, Corey Rankins, lived two or three blocks east of 1405 Idaho Street. “Approximately a minute” after receiving the dispatch, Wilshusen spotted a Suburban backing out of the driveway to Rankins’s house, the second vehicle Wilshusen encountered after the dispatch. Unable to see how many people were in the Suburban or their identities, Wilshusen turned his patrol car towards the vehicle and turned on his spotlight. Wilshusen exited his car and approached the Suburban, which had stopped. He saw Walker sitting in the driver’s side backseat. The other occupants were three women. A search of the Suburban revealed the handgun that Walker seeks to suppress. [ii]
Walker was ultimately charged under federal law for being a felon in possession of a firearm. He filed a motion to suppress and argued the initial stop was without reasonable suspicion. The motion was denied. Walker entered a plea with the right to appeal. He then filed a timely appeal with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
On appeal, he argued that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle he was in and as such, the gun should be suppressed.
The Eighth Circuit first examined relevant case law regarding this type of circumstance. The court noted that the facts of the United States v. Juvenile TK [iii]are similar to the facts of Walker’s case. In TK, police received reports that a man with a gun broke a window and entered a gray vehicle. It was then reported that the man brandished a gun at a gas station. A police officer saw a gray car about two blocks from the gas station and stopped it. The Eighth Circuit stated:
We concluded that the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the car based on “the temporal and geographic proximity of the car to the scene of the crime, the matching description of the vehicle, and the time of the stop.” Id. at 903. [iv]
The court then compared the facts of Walker’s case to the facts and holding in TK. First, they noted that, in Walker, like TK, the officers were responding to a report of “clearly criminal activity;” particularly, a drive-by shooting at the residence of a witness in a murder investigation. Second, the witness reported a Suburban leaving the scene of the shooting. Third, the first responding officer observed a Suburban leaving the driveway of suspect in the aforementioned murder investigation. The court stated that these facts are “more than enough” to establish reasonable suspicion to justify a stop of the Suburban. [v]
The court then affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress in this case.
Note: Court holdings can vary significantly between jurisdictions. As such, it is advisable to seek the advice of a local prosecutor or legal adviser regarding questions on specific cases. This article is not intended to constitute legal advice on a specific case.
[i] No. 14-1752 (8th Cir. Decided November 14, 2014)
[ii] Id. at 2
[iii] 134 F.3d 899 (8th Cir. 1998)
[iv] Walker at 3