224 F.3d 675 (7th Cir. 2000), 99-3687, United States v Sawyer

Docket Nº:99-3687
Citation:224 F.3d 675
Party Name:United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Cordell G. Sawyer, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:August 18, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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224 F.3d 675 (7th Cir. 2000)

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Cordell G. Sawyer, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 99-3687

In the United States Court of Appeals, For the Seventh Circuit

August 18, 2000

Argued March 30, 2000

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 99-CR-30091-PER--Paul E. Riley, Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Before Bauer, Diane P. Wood, and Williams, Circuit Judges.

Williams, Circuit Judge.

Cordell G. Sawyer, who stands charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, successfully argued to the district court that bullets found on his person when he was arrested (which match the bullets in the gun he is alleged to have possessed) should be suppressed as the product of an illegal search. The government takes the opposite view and has filed this interlocutory appeal challenging the district court's ruling. Because we conclude that the bullets found on Sawyer were not the product of an illegal search, we reverse.


The only account of the events leading up to the search that produced the bullets the district court suppressed comes from Deputy United States Marshal Thomas Woods, who was the only witness to testify at Sawyer's suppression hearing. From Woods's testimony the following facts emerge.

On the night of Sawyer's arrest, Woods was assigned to a joint federal-state fugitive task force operating in East St. Louis, Illinois. At approximately 10:30 p.m., Woods and the other deputy marshals and local police officers with whom he was working were patrolling the 1400 block of North 55th Street, a high crime area where Woods and other officers had made prior arrests for drug and weapons offenses. While traveling north on 55th Street, Woods and the other task force officers observed Sawyer standing alone in front of a vacant building dressed in all black clothing. Suspicious, the officers stopped their vehicle. Woods, who was wearing a bullet proof vest with the words "Police, U.S. Marshal" on it, got out, identified himself as a law enforcement officer, and told Sawyer that he would like to speak with him. Sawyer immediately turned and ran toward the rear of the vacant building.

Woods gave chase, using his flashlight to keep Sawyer in view. During the chase, Sawyer stumbled and fell. As Sawyer was getting up, Woods saw Sawyer pull an object from his midsection, from underneath his clothing, and throw it to the ground. Woods, who was only ten feet away at the time, believed the object to be a gun, perhaps stainless steel and semiautomatic, but he was not absolutely sure. After dropping the object, Sawyer continued his flight from Woods. Shortly thereafter, Woods lost sight of Sawyer.

By this time, however, Woods was in verbal contact with the other task force officers and told them what had happened. About a minute later, Sawyer was found hiding under a bush about twenty yards from where Woods had lost sight of him. As Woods approached, one of the task force officers, Deputy United States Marshal Tony Nelson, was handcuffing Sawyer. Woods placed Sawyer under arrest for "unlawful use of a weapon, carrying a

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gun," a state crime. See 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/24-1(a)(4). Meanwhile, Nelson frisked Sawyer and discovered a plastic bag containing a number of .45 caliber bullets in Sawyer's left front pants pocket.

Once Sawyer was in custody, Woods returned to the area where he had seen Sawyer toss the object he believed to be a gun. After some searching, he found a Colt semiautomatic handgun, light in color, possibly stainless steel. The gun was loaded with .45 caliber bullets, which were subsequently determined to be identical to the bullets found on Sawyer.

Later, it was discovered that Sawyer had previous felony convictions. Based on this information, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois charged Sawyer with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. sec. 922(g)(1). In pretrial proceedings, Sawyer filed a motion to suppress the bullets found on him when he was arrested on the ground that the bullets were obtained pursuant to an illegal search. The government responded that the search that uncovered the bullets was justified both as a search incident to arrest and as a protective pat-down search authorized by Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).

The district court rejected both of the justifications offered by the government. With respect to the first, the court concluded that the search was not a proper search incident to arrest because Sawyer's warrantless arrest was not supported by probable cause. As for the second, the court ruled that the search could not be justified as a Terry pat-down search because there was insufficient evidence regarding the knowledge of the officer who conducted the search. Accordingly, the district court ordered the bullets suppressed.

Exercising its right to pursue an interlocutory appeal of the suppression order, see 18 U.S.C. sec. 3731, the government now appeals. It raises three arguments: (1) that the suppressed bullets were recovered pursuant to a search incident to a lawful arrest; (2) that the suppressed bullets were recovered pursuant to a lawful Terry pat- down search; and (3) that the suppressed bullets would have inevitably been discovered by lawful means and therefore should not have been suppressed. Because the first of these arguments is adequate to resolve this appeal, however, our analysis will be restricted to the issues raised by that argument.


It has long been the rule that law enforcement officers may conduct a full search of an arrestee in order to discover weapons the arrestee might be carrying and to preserve evidence that might be destroyed. United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 235 (1973); United States v. Rodriguez, 995 F.2d 776, 778 (7th Cir. 1993). Such a search is permissible, however, only if the arrest was legal. United States v. Kincaid, 212 F.3d 1025, 1028 (7th Cir. 2000); United States v. Levy, 990 F.2d 971, 974 (7th Cir. 1993). An officer may legally arrest a suspect without obtaining an arrest warrant beforehand only if the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect has committed a crime and the suspect is not inside his or her home....

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