106 F.3d 613 (4th Cir. 1997), 95-5441, United States v. Sprinkle

Docket Nº:95-5441.
Citation:106 F.3d 613
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Carl SPRINKLE, a/k/a Carl Sprinkler, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:February 11, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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106 F.3d 613 (4th Cir. 1997)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Carl SPRINKLE, a/k/a Carl Sprinkler, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 95-5441.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

February 11, 1997

Argued Sept. 24, 1996.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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ARGUED: Albert Peter Shahid, Jr., Assistant United States Attorney, Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellant. Ann Briks Walsh, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: J. Preston Strom, Jr., United States Attorney, Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellant.

Before NIEMEYER, MICHAEL, and MOTZ, Circuit Judges.

Judge MICHAEL wrote the majority opinion, in which Judge MOTZ joined. Judge NIEMEYER wrote a separate concurring and dissenting opinion.

OPINION

MICHAEL, Circuit Judge:

Carl Sprinkle was indicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The police discovered Sprinkle's gun during events immediately following an investigative stop. Sprinkle filed a motion to suppress the gun, arguing that the police did not have reasonable suspicion to make the stop. The district court granted the suppression motion and dismissed the case; the government now appeals. We hold that although no reasonable, articulable suspicion justified the stop, Sprinkle's use of the gun to commit a new, distinct crime after the stop made the gun subject to lawful seizure. We therefore reverse with instructions to reinstate the indictment.

I.

Police officers Daniel Riccio and Holly Ann Connolly work as partners, patrolling downtown Charleston, South Carolina. At 5:30 p.m. on June 24, 1994, the officers escorted a misbehaving (rock-throwing) juvenile to his house on Reed Street, which is in a crowded residential neighborhood. The officers and the juvenile arrived to a busy scene in the Reed Street area: quite a few people were on the sidewalks, and there was no place to park in front of the juvenile's house. The officers, each of whom had a patrol car, parked about a block away. They then delivered the juvenile (and his bicycle) and had a talk with his mother on the front stoop.

While standing on the stoop of the juvenile's house, Officer Riccio noticed Victor Poindexter sitting in the driver's seat of a red Mercury Cougar parked directly across the street about twenty-five feet away. Officer Riccio knew that Poindexter, who was the stepbrother of Riccio's mother, had served time for narcotics violations. Riccio also knew that Poindexter had been out of prison for only a few months, but Riccio had no reports of any criminal activity by Poindexter

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since his release. The street where Poindexter was parked (and where the juvenile lived) was in a neighborhood known by the police for considerable narcotics trafficking. Riccio himself had made numerous drug arrests in the area.

Within a few seconds after Officer Riccio noticed Poindexter, the officers saw Sprinkle, whom they did not know, walk out of a house across the street and get into the passenger side of Poindexter's Cougar. The officers then left the stoop. As they walked by the driver side of the Cougar on the way to their patrol cars, Officer Riccio noticed Sprinkle "huddling and talking to [ ] Poindexter." Specifically, they were "huddled to the center of the console of the vehicle" with their hands "close[ ] together." Riccio "believed that [Sprinkle] was passing or about to pass Poindexter something." When Poindexter saw Officer Riccio, he "put his head down and put his hand to the left side of his face as if to conceal his face from [Riccio] seeing him." At this point Officer Riccio told Officer Connolly, "I know that person [Poindexter], he is involved in illegal activity, narcotics especially. And with [the two men] being in that [high crime] area and the suspicious actions of both ... we'll probably need to stop that vehicle to conduct an investigation."

Both officers were close to the Cougar as they walked by. It was a "fairly bright day" with "plenty of light," according to Officer Riccio. Officer Connolly could see that Poindexter and Sprinkle were facing each other and talking. Officer Riccio, who was closest, could see inside the car and "saw everybody's hands." Riccio did not see anything in either man's hands. Neither officer saw any drugs, money, guns, or drug paraphernalia in the car. Moreover, Poindexter and Sprinkle did not make any movement that indicated an attempt to conceal any object inside the car.

As the officers hurried on foot to their own cars, Poindexter started the Cougar and pulled into the street. He drove in a normal, unsuspicious fashion; he did not speed, drive erratically, or commit any traffic violations. Once in their own cars the officers intended to pursue and stop Poindexter's car, but some of their work was done for them. Poindexter had driven only 150 feet when an unrelated traffic stop completely blocked his way. Officers Riccio and Connolly simply pulled their cars up behind the Cougar, turned on their blue lights, and walked toward the blocked car. By the time Officer Riccio got to the passenger side of the car, Sprinkle had stepped out. Sprinkle appeared nervous and agitated as Riccio told him he was going to pat him down for weapons. Just as Riccio started the patdown, Sprinkle "pushed away and began to run." After running about one-half block with Ric cio in pursuit, Sprinkle pulled a handgun from the front of his pants. Riccio, now drawing his own gun, chased Sprinkle for another...

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