290 F.3d 1331 (11th Cir. 2002), 01-13607, U.S v. Holloway

Docket Nº:01-13607
Citation:290 F.3d 1331
Party Name:U.S v. Holloway
Case Date:May 10, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1331

290 F.3d 1331 (11th Cir. 2002)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Robert Dale HOLLOWAY, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 01-13607.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

May 10, 2002

Page 1332

        Joseph Peter Van Heest, Jennifer Anne Hart, Fed. Pub. Def., Federal Defenders Program, Montgomery, AL, for Defendant-Appellant.

        Michael D. Kanarick, Montgomery, AL, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

        Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

        Before BLACK and HULL, Circuit Judges, and HANCOCK [*] , District Judge.

        BLACK, Circuit Judge:

        This case arises from a 911 call reporting gunshots and arguing originating from Appellant Robert Dale Holloway's residence. Investigating the emergency call, law enforcement officers conducted a warrantless search of the residence. Although no victims were found by the officers, the search uncovered the firearm used to cause the disturbance. Appellant subsequently was indicted and convicted for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. On appeal, he argues the firearm and other evidence seized by the officers should have been suppressed as fruits of an unconstitutional search. Upon review of the record, we conclude the district court did not err in denying Appellant's motion to suppress and affirm.

        I. BACKGROUND

        At 10:22 p.m. on August 4, 1999, Officer Norman Bernard of the Alexander City Police Department received a dispatch from a 911 operator to investigate a report of gunshots and arguing emanating from 3785 Washington Street. Officer Bernard proceeded immediately to the location of the disturbance. En route, the officer received a second dispatch from the 911 operator indicating the caller was reporting continued gunshots and arguing. Officer Bernard arrived at the designated address at approximately 10:29 p.m., within a minute of the second dispatch from the emergency operator. Providing back-up in a separate patrol car was Officer Marcus Billips, who also responded to the emergency dispatch.

        Upon arrival, Officer Bernard pulled into the driveway of the residence located at 3785 Washington Street, a mobile home occupied by Appellant. The officer illuminated the residence with his headlights and spotlight. On the porch of the residence were Appellant and his wife, Lena Holloway. Due to the high-risk nature of the 911 call, Officer Bernard drew his service weapon as he exited his vehicle. From behind his car door, Officer Bernard instructed Appellant and his wife to raise their hands into view. Appellant complied; his wife did not. As directed, Appellant stepped off the porch and walked towards Officer Bernard and Officer Billips. As Appellant proceeded towards the officers, a third individual, later identified as neighbor Mike Machado, emerged from behind a horse trailer parked in the yard. The neighbor also was ordered to raise his hands and walk towards the officers. Both Appellant and his neighbor were instructed to lie on the ground facing away from the officers, their palms facing up.

        Although the two men were compliant, Mrs. Holloway refused to leave the porch, and instead sat down on a chair. Despite several verbal commands, Mrs. Holloway refused to move. Suddenly, a child appeared in the doorway of the residence. The child was ordered back into the house. Ultimately, because of Mrs. Holloway's unresponsiveness, Officer Bernard threatened to employ his pepper spray. Finally, with encouragement from Appellant, Mrs. Holloway stepped off the porch, but

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fused to raise her hands. By this time, Sergeant Randy Walters, who had arrived on the scene to provide additional support, stepped in to secure Mrs. Holloway.

        After Mrs. Holloway was placed under control, Officer Bernard turned his attention to Appellant. The officer handcuffed Appellant and quickly patted him down to see if he was concealing a weapon. Officer Billips then engaged in the same procedure with respect to Mr. Machado. Once they were secured, the two men were placed separately in the officers' patrol cars. Altogether, approximately ten minutes elapsed from the time the officers arrived on the scene to the time those present were secured.

        Having placed Appellant safely into his patrol car, Officer Bernard approached the residence to check for victims and weapons on the premises. In doing so, the officer observed several beer cans strewn about the yard and porch. As he stepped onto the porch, Officer Bernard saw a shotgun shell on top of the picnic table. Glancing around for a corresponding weapon, the officer located a model 870 Remington shotgun leaning against the side of the mobile home, approximately three feet from where Appellant had been standing when the officers first arrived. The safety was disengaged. Additional shotgun shells, two expended and one live, were found lying in the grass by the side of the residence. Officer Bernard locked the weapon in the trunk of his patrol car and returned to the house to continue his search for victims and investigate the disturbance. No victims were found.

        After ensuring that everyone on the scene was safe, Officer Bernard approached Appellant to inform him of the 911 call and to explain the officers' reasons for securing those present on the premises. As Officer Bernard was explaining the officers' actions, Appellant interrupted to describe what had transpired earlier that evening. According to Appellant, the commotion began when three males standing on the railroad tracks behind Appellant's mobile home started throwing rocks at his house and horses. In an effort to ward off the men, Appellant fired his shotgun into the air above the railroad tracks.

        In light of his conversation with Appellant, Officer Bernard left to speak with Sergeant Walters. According to Sergeant Walters, Appellant's account of the evening's events matched an account given by Mrs. Holloway. Based on this information, Sergeant Walters determined there was sufficient cause to arrest Appellant.1Appellant was then placed under arrest by Officer Bernard at approximately 11:05 p.m., 36 minutes after the officers first arrived on the scene.

        Following his arrest, Appellant was indicted by a federal grand jury for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).2 The firearm at issue was the model 870 Remington shotgun discovered by Officer Bernard at Appellant's residence on August 4, 1999. Claiming the search of his home violated the Fourth Amendment, Appellant moved the district court to suppress the firearm and any other evidence seized by Officer Bernard. Appellant's motion to suppress was denied. Thereafter, Appellant pled guilty, preserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. This appeal followed.3

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         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

        Review of a district court's denial of a motion to suppress evidence is a mixed question of law and fact. United States v. Alexander, 835 F.2d 1406, 1408 (11th Cir. 1988). The district court's findings of fact are reviewed under the clearly erroneous standard, whereas its application of the law is subject to de novo review. Id. In reviewing the district court's ruling, this Court must construe the facts in the light most favorable to the party prevailing below, which, in this case, is the Government. United States v. Wilson, 894 F.2d 1245, 1254 (11th Cir. 1990).

        III. DISCUSSION

        This case presents an issue of first impression to this Circuit concerning whether law enforcement officials may conduct a warrantless search of a private residence in response to an emergency situation reported by an anonymous 911 caller. We conclude that when exigent circumstances demand an immediate response, particularly where there is danger to human life, protection of the public becomes paramount and can justify a limited, warrantless intrusion into the home. Once in the home, officers may seize any evidence found within plain view.

         A. Warrantless Search of Appellant's Residence

        The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States sets forth a general proscription on warrantless searches of a person's home: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated. . . ." U.S. Const, amend. IV. The Fourth Amendment's prohibition of warrantless searches, however, is not absolute. Although there is a strong preference for searches and entries conducted under the judicial auspices of a warrant, the United States Supreme Court has crafted a few carefully drawn exceptions to the warrant requirement to cover situations where "the public interest require[s] some flexibility in the application of the general rale that a valid warrant is a prerequisite for a search." Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U.S. 753, 759, 99 S.Ct. 2586, 2590, 61 L.Ed.2d 235 (1979). One such exception is that the police may enter a private premises and conduct a search if "exigent circumstances" mandate immediate action. See Michigan v. Tyler, 436 U.S. 499, 509, 98 S.Ct. 1942, 1949-50, 56 L.Ed.2d 486 (1978).

         The exigent circumstances exception recognizes a "warrantless entry by criminal law enforcement officials may be legal when there is compelling need for official action and no time to secure a warrant." Michigan, 436 U.S. at 509, 98 S.Ct, at 1949. The exception encompasses several common situations where resort to a magistrate for a search warrant is not feasible or advisable, including: danger of flight or escape, loss or destruction of evidence, risk of harm to the public or the police, mobility of a vehicle, and hot pursuit. See Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 14-15,...

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