United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
OWE CHIEF JUDGE
matter is before the court on Defendant Damon Oden's
“Motion to Suppress.” (Doc. 7). Mr. Oden is
charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (felon in
possession of a firearm) and 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and
(b)(1)(b) (unlawful possession with intent to distribute 5
grams or more of methamphetamine). Mr. Oden argues these
charges are based on evidence obtained in an unconstitutional
search and seizure.
carefully considering the briefs and the testimony presented
at the suppression hearing on this matter, the court will
DENY Mr. Oden's motion to suppress.
2017, Mr. Oden was riding a bicycle down Oak Avenue in
Sylacauga, Alabama. He was wearing a backpack on his
shoulders and a pouch on his belt. At the end of Oak Avenue,
he rode onto a trail through the woods to Brock Avenue.
Meanwhile, Sylacauga Police Department and Talladega Drug
Task Force Officers were patrolling the area based on recent
unlawful breaking and entering of motor vehicles in the
vicinity. The officers observed Mr. Oden enter the woods on
his bicycle, so they drove approximately one-half mile to
where the trail ended on Brock Avenue.
Oden exited the trail on Brock Avenue, the officers arrived
in their patrol vehicle. Chief Johnson and Lieutenant Whatley
testified at the suppression hearing that after Mr. Oden
dismounted his bicycle, the two officers recognized Mr. Oden
from past encounters with him. Chief Johnson testified that
he had heard rumors that Mr. Oden had been
“hanging” with individuals suspected of shootings
in a nearby housing community, and Lieutenant Whatley
testified that, while arresting Mr. Oden for driving under
the influence, he had previously discovered a gun in Mr.
officers observed that Mr. Oden was acting “very
nervous, ” he had a bulge in his front pocket, and had
something in his hand. When Chief Johnson asked Mr. Oden
about being in the woods, Mr. Oden responded that he had not
been in the woods, and only admitted it once Chief Johnson
informed him that he had observed Mr. Oden as he exited.
Chief Johnson testified that he then mentioned to Mr. Oden
the rumors about Mr. Oden associating with individuals
suspected of shootings in a nearby housing community, and
then asked Mr. Oden if he was carrying a firearm.
asked about the firearm, Mr. Oden suddenly moved his hands
toward his waistband. Chief Johnson then reached and grabbed
Mr. Oden's wrist to prevent Mr. Oden from withdrawing the
object that was bulging in his pocket. While Chief Johnson
was still holding Mr. Oden's wrist, Lieutenant Whatley
observed a firearm in Mr. Oden's pocket and removed it.
confiscating the firearm, the officers recovered from Mr.
Oden's hand a coffee filter containing what the officers
suspected to be methamphetamine in a plastic bag. The
officers also found methamphetamine, empty plastic bags, and
a set of digital scales in Mr. Oden's pouch and backpack.
Lab tests ultimately confirmed the substance in Oden's
possession was approximately 12 grams of methamphetamine.
Fourth Amendment provides “[t]he right of the people to
be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures.” And the
Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized “that searches
conducted outside the judicial process, without prior
approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable
under the Fourth Amendment-subject only to a few specifically
established and well-delineated exceptions.” Katz
v. U.S., 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967) (citations omitted)
(quoting U.S. v. Jeffers, 342 U.S. 48, 51, 72
(1951)) (internal quotation marks omitted). In U.S. v.
Perez, the Eleventh Circuit identified three broad
categories of police-citizen encounters helpful for
conducting Fourth Amendment analysis: “(1)
police-citizen exchanges involving no coercion or detention;
(2) brief seizures or investigatory detentions; and (3)
full-scale arrests.” 443 F.3d 772, 777 (11th Cir.
first category of police-citizen encounters encompasses
voluntary conversation between an officer and a citizen.
Id. The Supreme Court has held that “mere
police questioning does not constitute a seizure” and
“even when officers have no basis for suspecting a
particular individual, they may generally ask questions of
that individual.” Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S.
429, 434-435 (1991). Therefore, such voluntary encounters do
not constitute a “seizure” for Fourth Amendment
second category of police-citizen encounters encompasses
brief seizures or investigatory detentions, which do
constitute a “seizure” for Fourth Amendment
purposes. Perez, 443 F.3d at 777. An encounter rises
to this level “‘only when, by means of physical
force or a show of authority, [a person's] freedom of
movement is restrained.'” Craig v.
Singletary, 127 F.3d 1030, 1041 (11th Cir. 1997)
(quoting U.S. v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 555
encounters within the second category of police-citizen
encounters are often referred to as a “Terry
stop.” See, e.g., U.S. v. Sharpe, 470 U.S.
675, 691 (1985) (“a Terry stop does not
constitute the sort of arrest that the Constitution requires
be made only upon probable cause.”). In Craig v.
Singletary, the Eleventh Circuit explained, “[t]he
applicable test manifestly is not a subjective one. Instead,
a person has been seized within the meaning of the Fourth
Amendment only if, in view of all the circumstances