United States District Court, M.D. Alabama
H. THOMPSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
criminal case, defendant Larry Keyun Chappell moved to
suppress two guns that were found after a traffic stop. He is
charged with possession of a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C.
§ 922(g)(1), and possession of a stolen firearm, 18
U.S.C. § 922(j). He contended that the guns were
obtained as a result of an unlawful traffic stop and should
be suppressed as fruit of that stop. The government responded
that the stop was lawful, and that, even if unlawful, the
evidence should be not be suppressed due to Chappell's
flight from the police officers and abandonment of the guns.
At the suppression-motion hearing, the United States
Magistrate Judge heard testimony from one of the police
officers who conducted the stop. The magistrate judge
recommended that the motion be denied. After an independent
and de novo review of the record, the court entered an order
adopting the magistrate judge's recommendation and
denying Chappell's suppression motion, albeit on a ground
different from that relied upon by the magistrate judge. The
court promised that an opinion would follow later. This is
the promised opinion.
13, 2016, two Montgomery, Alabama Police Department officers
initiated a traffic stop of Chappell because his vehicle, a
Nissan Murano, had no permanent license plate and instead had
only a paper tag that said “America's Car-Mart,
” with smaller text reading “Drive Easy.”
One of the officers testified that, when they initiated the
stop, Chappell accelerated around a corner, slammed on his
brakes, and then fled on foot, leaving the car behind. The
officers pursued Chappell on foot and apprehended him, but
only after he threw away a Springfield .45 caliber pistol
while fleeing; he later helped the police recover that gun.
The police also searched Chappell's car and found a Glock
.45 caliber gun in the glove compartment. Chappell was found
to be a convicted felon and was charged with the firearm
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees
the right of individuals “to be secure in their
persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable
searches and seizure.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. A seizure
requires physical force or submission to the assertion of
authority. California v. Hodari, 499 U.S. 621, 626
(1991). An investigative traffic stop that meets this
definition but does not amount to an arrest therefore may
still be considered a seizure. See Terry v. Ohio,
392 U.S. 1, 17 (1968).
stops are considered reasonable, and therefore lawful under
the Fourth Amendment, if conducted based on reasonable
suspicion that the motorist is engaging in criminal activity,
or based on probable cause to believe that a traffic
violation has occurred. United States v. Harris, 526
F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2008) (internal citations
omitted). A “reasonable suspicion” is one for
which there is a “particularized and objective
basis.” Navarette v. California, 134 S.Ct.
1683, 1687 (2014) (internal citations omitted).
magistrate judge held that the guns were the product of a
seizure that was lawfully based on “sufficient
reasonable, articulable suspicion to justify briefly stopping
[Chappell]'s vehicle and investigating whether he was in
compliance with Alabama laws requiring him to register a
newly acquired vehicle and display of a proper license tag or
plate.” Recommendation (doc. no. 33) at
However, the question precedent to whether the seizure was
lawful is whether there was, in fact, a seizure at
Hodari, the Supreme Court held that a Fourth
Amendment seizure requires either physical force or
“submission to the assertion of authority.” 499
U.S. at 626. The Court explained that the Fourth Amendment
“does not remotely apply ... to the prospect of a
policeman yelling ‘Stop, in the name of the law!'
at a fleeing form that continues to flee. That is no
seizure.” Id. In other words, a person is not
considered seized while he is engaged in the act of fleeing
from the police.
on this understanding of seizure, the Hodari Court
found that drugs thrown away by an individual who was running
away from the police are not considered fruit of an unlawful
seizure, for, according to the Court, there had been no
seizure at the time the drugs were discarded. Whether the
officer had reasonable suspicion at the time of initiating
the stop was irrelevant.
here, Chappell was not seized during the time he was engaged
in the act of fleeing from the police. Similarly, the
gun that he threw away while fleeing is analogous to the
drugs that the defendant in Hodari threw away while
fleeing from the police; it was not the product of an illegal
seizure, for there had been no seizure when he abandoned it.
Likewise, no seizure had occurred when Chappell, while
fleeing, abandoned the car and the gun in the glove
compartment. Of course, an individual “who
abandons or denies ownership of personal property may not
contest the constitutionality of its subsequent acquisition
by the police.” United States v. Cofield, 272
F.3d 1303, 1306 (11th Cir. 2001). Though admittedly, if
abandonment of evidence was induced by an illegal seizure,
the abandoned evidence could be considered fruit of the
unlawful seizure and would be excluded, as explained in
United States v. Beck, 602 F.2d 726 (5th Cir.
1979).However, in this case, Chappell fled and no
seizure occurred; therefore, the principle in Beck
does not apply.
* * *
the court holds that the guns abandoned by Chappell were not
fruit of an unlawful seizure, for there had been no seizure
at the time the guns were abandoned. For this ...