205 F.3d 720 (4th Cir. 2000), 98-4208, United States v. Wilson

Docket Nº:98-4208 (CR-97-919).
Citation:205 F.3d 720
Party Name:UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. WILEY GENE WILSON, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:March 07, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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Page 720

205 F.3d 720 (4th Cir. 2000)

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

WILEY GENE WILSON, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 98-4208 (CR-97-919).

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

March 7, 2000

Submittted: February 23, 2000.

Filed: March 14, 2000.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, at Florence.

Cameron McGowan Currie, District Judge.

Page 721

COUNSEL ARGUED: Carolyn A. Dubay, Christopher G. Browning, Jr., HUNTON & WILLIAMS, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant. William Earl Day, II, Assistant United States Attorney, Florence, South Carolina, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: J. Rene Josey, United States Attorney, Florence, South Carolina, for Appellee.

Before WILKINSON, Chief Judge, WIDENER, MURNAGHAN, WILKINS, NIEMEYER, LUTTIG, WILLIAMS, MICHAEL, MOTZ, TRAXLER, and KING, Circuit Judges.

Vacated by published opinion. Judge Michael wrote the opinion, in which Chief Judge Wilkinson, Judge Widener, Judge Murnaghan, Judge Wilkins, Judge Niemeyer, Judge Luttig, Judge Williams, Judge Motz, Judge Traxler, and Judge King joined.

OPINION

MICHAEL, Circuit Judge:

Wiley Gene Wilson appeals his conviction and sentence for possessing a firearm while he was a felon and fugitive, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), (2). Wilson argues that the district court erred in admitting the firearm into evidence over his objection that it had been obtained as the result of an unconstitutional automobile stop. Because we agree that the firearm should have been excluded, we vacate Wilson's conviction.

I.

This appeal turns on the undisputed facts that led a policeman to stop Wilson's car in South Carolina on April 2, 1997. The story, however, begins a few months earlier, on August 16, 1996, when Wilson was released from the Nevada State Prison after completing a sentence for larceny and burglary. He went immediately to live with his sister and brother-in-law in Crystal City, Missouri, where he resumed serving a term of supervised release on an earlier federal conviction for escape from a halfway house. On August 24, 1996, soon after he arrived in Missouri, Wilson got into a dustup with his relatives, and he was arrested and jailed for disturbing the peace. Wilson was released after a few hours, and two days later (August 26, 1996) he went to Las Vegas. On October 10, 1996, a federal warrant was issued for

Page 722

his arrest on the charge that he had violated his supervised release by failing to report the August 1996 arrest to his probation officer and by leaving Missouri without permission.

Wilson managed to evade the authorities and eventually wound up in Pageland, South Carolina, where his wife, Kimberly, and son were living. After Wilson arrived in South Carolina, he decided to buy his wife a car, and on March 31, 1997, he bought a used 1984 Mercury Cougar from a car lot in Monroe, North Carolina. The bill of sale conveyed title to Wiley Gene Wilson and Kimberly Ann Wilson. As required by North Carolina law, the dealer placed a temporary (paper) license tag on the car. Handwritten on the bottom of the tag were its expiration date and the car's make and vehicle identification number. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-79.1.

Two days after the purchase, on the evening of April 2, 1997, Wilson was driving the Cougar on State Route 151 near Pageland, South Carolina. He was on his way to a restaurant with his wife, his son, and his son's girlfriend. A Pageland policeman, Alex McLemore, who was on patrol that evening, happened to overtake the Cougar as it was traveling along Route 151. Officer McLemore noticed that the car had a North Carolina temporary tag, and he began following it. It was dark, and Officer McLemore had his headlights on. The officer followed behind the Cougar for a quarter to half of a mile, but he was unable to read the expiration date on the tag. The officer admitted that he never saw anything illegal about the tag or the operation of the car. There was no evidence that the tag was concealed, improperly displayed, smudged, or faded by age. Solely because he could not read the handwritten expiration date "in the bottom little corner of the paper tag," Officer McLemore signaled for the driver of the Cougar to pull over.

Wilson stopped, got out of the car, and met the officer midway between the two cars. Officer McLemore asked for Wilson's driver's license; Wilson first claimed he did not have a license and later said he had lost it. The officer then went to the front passenger side of the Cougar, where Kimberly Wilson gave him the bill of sale for the car. When the officer saw that Wiley Gene Wilson and Kimberly Ann Wilson were listed as the owners, he asked (Mr.) Wilson if he was Wiley Gene Wilson. Wilson denied that he was, saying that he was Boyd Wilson. Kimberly Wilson, however, confirmed that Wilson was indeed Wiley Gene Wilson. Thereafter, while Officer McLemore's dispatcher was attempting to run a computer check on Wilson, Kimberly Wilson suddenly recognized the officer from a prior meeting. Mrs. Wilson reminded Officer McLemore that she had talked with him in January 1997 when her son was missing and believed to be somewhere in the West with his father, Wiley Wilson. The officer then recalled that he had run a computer check on Wilson on the prior occasion and had discovered a warrant outstanding for his arrest.

Upon realizing that Wilson was a fugitive, Officer McLemore arrested him for driving without a license and without liability insurance. Officer McLemore then searched...

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