491 F.3d 457 (D.C. Cir. 2007), 05-3080, United States v. Goddard

Docket Nº:05-3080.
Citation:491 F.3d 457
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee v. Melvin M. GODDARD, Appellant.
Case Date:June 22, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Page 457

491 F.3d 457 (D.C. Cir. 2007)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee


Melvin M. GODDARD, Appellant.

No. 05-3080.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

June 22, 2007

Argued October 16, 2006.

Page 458

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 04cr00214-01.

Jon S. Pascale, appointed by the court, argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant.

Youli Lee, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With her on the brief were Jeffrey A. Taylor, U.S. Attorney, and Roy W. McLeese, III, Thomas J. Tourish, Jr., and Lisa H. Schertler, Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

Before: Ginsburg, Chief Judge, and Tatel and Brown, Circuit Judges.



Charged with unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, appellant moved to suppress the gun and his statement that he owned the gun, claiming that the arresting officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him. The district court denied his motion, ruling that the officers had reasonable suspicion at the time of the stop. We conclude that the stop happened later than the district court found, but because the record supports reasonable suspicion at that later point, we affirm.


On the evening of March 30, 2004, four Metropolitan Police Department officers in an unmarked police car received a radio lookout about an attempted unauthorized use of a vehicle (UUV). The radioing officer had tried to stop the suspect's car, but the suspect fled the scene. The lookout described the suspect as a black male, 5'8" in height, weighing 180 pounds, and dressed in a black coat and blue jeans.

Two blocks from the attempted UUV, at 7:25 p.m.-just minutes after the lookout-the four officers saw four black men talking to each other outside a gas station. Tr. of June 21, 2004 Hr'g at 16-17, 21. The district court found that all four men, one of whom was Appellant Melvin Goddard, were wearing black coats and blue jeans and that there was a substantial difference in their heights. United States v. Goddard, No. 04-214, slip op. at 2 (D.D.C. Dec. 18, 2006) (hereinafter "Supplemental Findings"); Tr. of June 21, 2004

Page 459

Hr'g at 83. Only two were close to 5'8" (one was 5'6" and the other between 5'6" and six feet), while Goddard and Vaughn Walker, a defense witness, were both over six feet tall. According to one of the officers, the four men "for the most part" matched the lookout "as far as the clothes thing, height and weight." Tr. of June 21, 2004 Hr'g at 17. The same officer later clarified that despite his uncertainty about the consistency of the men's heights with the lookout description, he decided to approach them based on "the clothes worn by the defendant and the other three gentlemen." Id. at 21-22.

The officers pulled into the gas station, fifteen to twenty feet away from the group of men. All four officers wore plain clothes, jackets with an MPD logo, and badges. Their guns and handcuffs were showing, but the guns were not drawn. Once the officers pulled into the gas station, Walker began moving away from the group. As the officers exited their car, Goddard "held the right side of his waistband, like he was holding . . . a gun." Id. at 8. Approaching the group of men, one of the officers overheard Goddard say he had a gun, whereupon the officer shouted "gun." Although Walker's testimony was less than clear as to the sequence of events, the district court, contrary to the dissent's characterization, see Dissenting Op. at 466-67, found that Walker was still moving away from the group of men at the time the officer shouted "gun," Tr. of June 21, 2004 Hr'g at 81, 84-85 (making this finding shortly after its announcement that "[t]he court will make the following findings of fact," and not, as the dissent suggests, in a separate summary of Walker's testimony, see Dissenting Op. at 466-67). Walker testified that the officers told him to return, at which point he "turned back around" and was pulled aside by one of the officers. Id. at 59-60. Two of the officers then handcuffed Goddard and conducted a pat-down, finding a gun in his waistband. At that point, the officers placed Goddard under arrest. After his arrest but before he received a Miranda warning, Goddard explained that he was carrying the gun because he had just gotten out of jail and had been shot recently.

A grand jury indicted Goddard for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Arguing that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion for the stop, Goddard moved to suppress the gun and his admission that he owned it. Although believing it "a close case as to whether these facts meet the Terry standard," Tr. of June 21, 2004 Hr'g at 81, the district court nonetheless found that the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop Goddard. The court based its conclusion on two primary circumstances: that the stop occurred two blocks from and soon after the attempted UUV; and that the men loosely matched the suspect's description, given that all four wore blue jeans and black coats and at least one was close to the suspect's height.

After the court denied his motion to suppress, Goddard pleaded guilty, reserving the right to raise the suppression issue on appeal. Following oral argument, we remanded the record to the district court for supplemental findings as to "the sequence of events surrounding appellant's stop and seizure, the factors establishing when the police contact became a stop, and the facts known to the police officers at those points." United States v. Goddard, No. 05-3080 (D.C. Cir. November 9, 2006). In its supplemental memorandum, the district court made the following finding: "In this case, the [officers'] 'contact' became a 'stop' as soon as the police officers drove up to the gas station . . . to investigate whether the four African-American men they saw standing and talking included the

Page 460

[attempted UUV suspect]." Supplemental Findings at 2.


The Fourth Amendment provides that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons . . . against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause." U.S. Const. amend. IV. As an exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, officers may conduct a brief investigative "Terry stop" so long as they have "reasonable, articulable suspicion" of criminal conduct. Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 123, 120 S.Ct. 673, 145 L.Ed.2d 570 (2000) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968)). Terry stops require only that officers have a "minimal level of objective justification," INS v. Delgado, 466 U.S. 210, 217, 104 S.Ct. 1758, 80 L.Ed.2d 247 (1984)--a standard significantly lower than the probable cause required for a warrant.

In this case, we face two distinct issues: when the stop occurred and whether the officers had reasonable suspicion at that time. Both are questions of law that we consider de novo. United States v. Maragh, 894 F.2d 415, 417 (D.C. Cir. 1990) ("[T]he [Supreme] Court has never deferred to the trier of fact regarding the question of seizure."); United States v. Christian, 187 F.3d 663, 666 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (applying de novo review to district court's determination of reasonable suspicion).

As to the first issue, a stop takes place "[o]nly when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen," Terry, 392 U.S. at 19 n. 16, 88 S.Ct. 1868, or, put differently, "only if, in view of all the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave," California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621, 627-28, 111 S.Ct. 1547, 113 L.Ed.2d 690 (1991) (alteration in original) (quoting United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554, 100 S.Ct. 1870, 64 L.Ed.2d 497 (1980) (plurality opinion)). "[T]he test must not be what the defendant himself . . . thought, but what a reasonable man, innocent of any crime, would have thought had he been in the defendant's shoes." Gomez v. Turner, 672 F.2d 134, 140 (D.C. Cir. 1982) (quoting Coates v. United States, 413 F.2d 371, 373 (D.C. Cir. 1969)). Under this test, neither the subjective impressions of the defendant nor the subjective intentions of the officer determine whether a seizure has occurred. See id. at 143 ("[T]he intent of the officer or the reason behind his decision to approach a pedestrian cannot be the basis upon which we determine whether a seizure has occurred."). In deciding whether a stop has occurred, this circuit has cited the factors listed by Justice Stewart in United States v. Mendenhall : "the threatening presence of several officers, the display of a weapon by an officer, some physical touching of the person of the citizen, or the use of language or tone of voice indicating that compliance with the officer's request might be compelled." 446 U.S. at 554, 100 S.Ct. 1870; Gomez, 672 F.2d at 144. In addition, we consider "the demeanor of the approaching officer," Gomez, 672 F.2d at 144, "whether the officer . . . wore a uniform," and "the time and place of the encounter," United States v. Wood, 981 F.2d 536, 539 (D.C. Cir. 1992). Of course, not all interactions between police and citizens are stops, as "law enforcement officers do not violate the Fourth Amendment by merely approaching an individual on the street or in another public place." Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 497, 103 S.Ct. 1319, 75 L.Ed.2d 229 (1983); see also United States v. Nurse, 916 F.2d 20, 23 (D.C. Cir. 1990).

Page 461

We disagree with the district court that the stop happened "as soon as the police officers drove up to the gas station." Supplemental Findings at 2. By itself, the presence of a police car is an insufficient show of authority to make a reasonable, innocent person feel unfree to leave. For example, in Michigan v....

To continue reading