213 F.3d 998 (8th Cir. 2000), 99-3485, United States v. Gray

Docket Nº:99-3485
Citation:213 F.3d 998
Party Name:UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF - APPELLEE, v. ERIC GRAY, DEFENDANT - APPELLANT.
Case Date:June 12, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Page 998

213 F.3d 998 (8th Cir. 2000)

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF - APPELLEE,

v.

ERIC GRAY, DEFENDANT - APPELLANT.

No. 99-3485

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 12, 2000

Submitted: February 15, 2000

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

Page 999

Before Richard S. Arnold, Heaney, and Loken, Circuit Judges.

Loken, Circuit Judge.

After the district court denied his motion to suppress, a jury convicted Eric Gray of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Gray appeals, arguing the

Page 1000

firearm was discovered during an unconstitutional search and seizure. Concluding the police lacked reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot when they frisked Gray during a consensual stop, we reverse.

At approximately 9:45 PM on January 8, 1998, St. Louis Police Officers David Ellison and Lawrence Little were patroling St. Louis's Eighth District, driving east along the 3900 block of Maffitt Avenue, an area in which drug activity and prostitution were common. The officers observed three women Ellison assumed were prostitutes. Ellison also saw Gray walking west along the south sidewalk. When Gray noticed the police vehicle, he crossed the street "in a hurried fashion" and continued walking west on the opposite side of the street. The officers drove around the block. When they returned to Maffitt Avenue, Gray was standing at approximately 3965 Maffitt. The officers exited their squad car and approached Gray, who identified himself, stated that he lived nearby, and told the officers he was waiting for a friend. Ellison then did a pat-down search of Gray over his winter coat. Feeling a hard object he believed was a gun, Ellison lifted Gray's coat and seized a .38-caliber revolver. As a felon in possession, Gray was indicted for violating § 922(g)(1). He was convicted and sentenced to 188 months in prison after the district court denied his pre-trial motion to suppress. That ruling is the only issue on appeal. We review whether Officer Ellison's pat-down search was constitutionally reasonable de novo. See Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 699 (1996).

The law enforcement justification for a pat-down search or protective frisk is officer safety. See United States v. Davis, 202 F.3d 1060, 1062 (8th Cir. 2000). A protective frisk is both a search and a seizure for Fourth Amendment purposes. See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 (1968). A protective frisk is constitutionally reasonable when a police officer "observes unusual conduct which leads him reasonably to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot and that the persons with whom he is dealing may be armed and presently dangerous." Id. at 30.

The requirement that a protective frisk be based upon reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot explains why...

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