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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Page 675

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

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

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.

I

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...

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