554 F.3d 79 (3rd Cir. 2009), 07-4004, United States v. Crandell

Docket Nº:07-4004.
Citation:554 F.3d 79
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellant v. Ronald CRANDELL, a/k/a Ricky Crandell.
Case Date:January 29, 2009
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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554 F.3d 79 (3rd Cir. 2009)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellant


Ronald CRANDELL, a/k/a Ricky Crandell.

No. 07-4004.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.

January 29, 2009

Argued Sept. 25, 2008.

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Christopher J. Christie, United States Attorney, George S. Leone, Chief, Appeals Division, Caroline A. Sadlowski (Argued), Assistant U.S. Attorney, Office of United States Attorney, Newark, NJ, for Appellant.

Richard Coughlin, Federal Public Defender, Lisa M. Mack, Esquire (Argued), Louise Arkel, Esquire, Office of Federal Public Defender, Newark, NJ, for Appellee.

Before: BARRY, AMBRO, and JORDAN, Circuit Judges.


AMBRO, Circuit Judge.

Three police officers were on routine patrol in a Hoboken, New Jersey housing project when they received an anonymous tip that a male with dreadlocks and blonde hair tips was seen carrying a handgun somewhere in the area. The officers immediately believed the description of the suspect matched the defendant, Ronald " Ricky" Crandell, whom they recognized for his distinctive appearance and rap sheet. While searching for Crandell in the neighborhood, the officers spotted him walking toward them. They approached him, which led to a pat-down and the recovery of a gun.

A federal grand jury indicted Crandell for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Prior to trial, he moved to suppress evidence

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of the handgun as the fruit of an illegal Fourth Amendment seizure. The District Court held a suppression hearing. In a comprehensive opinion, the Court presumed a seizure based on the anonymous tip, and granted the motion to suppress.

The Government appeals that ruling.1 It argues that Crandell was not seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment; rather, based on all the circumstances, the encounter was consensual.

We agree that the threshold question of whether Crandell was seized by the officers must be determined by evaluating all the circumstances surrounding the encounter, as a presumption does not suffice in this case. In so concluding, we explore why the tip, which raised the officers' suspicion and led to the encounter with Crandell, does not affect the initial seizure inquiry. We thus remand for further proceedings.

I. Facts

A. The Anonymous Tip

On July 15, 2005, three Hoboken Police Department officers-Arbend Drishti, Angel Valez, and Jimmy Miller-were on routine foot patrol in a residential area known as the Hoboken Housing Authority. Officer Drishti received an anonymous and uncorroborated tip from the police dispatch center about an armed man seen somewhere in the Housing Authority.2 The police report described " a black male with dread locks and blonde tips[,] wearing a tan shirt and blue jeans[,] in possession of a handgun on his waistband (small of his back)." Based on this description, Officers Drishti and Valez immediately believed the armed man was Crandell. Officer Valez recognized Crandell's distinctive description because Valez had seen Crandell's picture on numerous occasions in roll call and knew that he had been arrested several times in the area the officers patrolled. After receiving the dispatch, the three officers went to the intersection of Fifth and Jackson Streets in Hoboken to search for Crandell because it is a " high crime area" that he " frequents." However, they did not see him at that location.

B. The Encounter with Police

The officers walked south from the intersection, crossing Jackson Street toward Fourth Street. " Approximately halfway between Fourth Street and Fifth Street, [they] saw [Crandell] walking toward them." 3 United States v. Crandell, 509 F.Supp.2d 435, 439 (D.N.J.2007). Crandell did not react when he saw the three uniformed officers and kept walking in their direction. The officers approached Crandell in either a semi-circle or line formation and Officer Valez spoke to him.

The District Court notes that the testimony of Officers Drishti and Valez differs slightly with regard to what the officers said prior to patting Crandell down. Id. at 440. Both accounts, however, indicate Valez spoke to Crandell before he began the pat-down. Officer Valez testified:

As [Crandell] walked toward[ ] us, I stopped him .... and I told him I received information that [he] might have a weapon on [him] and I wanted to give

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[him] a pat down for our protection[.] I told [Crandell] he was free to leave at any time.... [Then Crandell] put his arms up .... [and,] as I was patting [Crandell] down, he hit my arm, he turned around and he ran [and] the weapon fell from the back of his pants.

Officer Drishti testified:

Officer Valez said to [Crandell], is it all right if we pat you down for our safety? You can leave at any time. And [Crandell] said, yeah, what's this all about? He started to get towards the fence[; ] there was a fence there. I was on ... Officer Valez's left, Officer Miller was on his right, and as he was picking up to put his hand like toward[ ] the fence, he was asking, what's this all about? And Officer Valez said, we got a call you might have a handgun on you. At that moment, as Officer Valez started to try to pat him down, he may have touched him once or twice, as soon as he got like towards the back area, Mr. Crandell turned abruptly and like knocked [Officer Valez's] arm to the side and a handgun flew from the lower back area onto the sidewalk, and Mr. Crandell then proceeded to run south on Jackson....

According to Drishti (obviously speaking with at least some overstatement), the whole event took " a couple of seconds." Officer Miller recovered the gun while Officers Drishti and Valez chased Crandell, but were unable to catch him at that time. Thereafter, a warrant was issued and Crandell was arrested.

C. The Suppression Hearing

After a federal grand jury indicted Crandell for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, he moved to suppress evidence of the handgun as the fruit of an illegal Fourth Amendment seizure. The District Court held a hearing and granted his motion to suppress, in effect dismissing the charge against him. The Court ruled that the seizure was illegal because the anonymous tip did not provide the officers with reasonable suspicion to justify the stop. Id. at 437. In so ruling, it presumed Crandell was seized at the outset of the encounter, as the officers' suspicion stemming from the tip tainted the possibility of consensual interaction. Id. at 446-47 n. 9. The Government appeals that ruling.

II. Discussion

We review a district court's grant of " the motion to suppress for clear error as to the underlying facts, but exercise[ ] plenary review as to its legality in light of the court's properly found facts." United States v. Givan, 320 F.3d 452, 458 (3d Cir.2003) (citation and internal quotations omitted) (alteration in original).

A. Was Crandell Seized?

The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from " unreasonable searches and seizures" of " their persons, houses, papers, and effects." U.S. Const. amend. IV. Because of the Amendment's language, we generally use the phrase " search and seizure" when evaluating the Fourth Amendment issues involved in suppression cases. But in certain circumstances, such as this, our legal analysis is flipped; we begin with whether an individual was seized, and, if so, whether it was valid, then the search analysis follows.

The Fourth Amendment generally requires that police officers obtain a warrant based on probable cause to justify a seizure and search. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). Terry held, however, that Fourth Amendment seizures can be legal absent a warrant in certain circumstances, which may include brief investigative detentions. Id. at 20, 88 S.Ct. 1868 (describing beat

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cops' encounters with citizens " predicated upon ... on-the-spot observations" as an example of conduct that would not require a warrant).

A warrantless Fourth Amendment seizure needs an objective and particularized justification. United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 551, 100 S.Ct. 1870, 64 L.Ed.2d 497 (1980). Under Terry, " an officer may, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, conduct a brief, investigatory stop when the officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot." Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 123, 120 S.Ct. 673, 145 L.Ed.2d 570 (2000). " Reasonable suspicion [required for a Terry stop] is a less demanding standard than probable cause [necessary for an arrest] and requires a showing considerably less than preponderance of the evidence.... [R]easonable suspicion can arise from information that is less reliable than that required to show probable cause." United States v. Valentine, 232 F.3d 350, 353 (3d Cir.2000) (citations and internal quotations omitted).

The first analytical step a court takes to evaluate the issues involved in this type of motion to suppress is to determine whether and when a citizen-police encounter implicates the Fourth Amendment. " Before even addressing whether the police had reasonable suspicion to approach [and engage an individual], the District Court [must first inquire] into whether [the individual was] ‘ seized’ by the police" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. United States v. Williams, 413 F.3d 347, 352 (3d Cir.2005). Courts regularly grapple with whether a particular encounter " amount[s] to a ‘ seizure’ " of a person or " intrudes upon no constitutionally protected interest." Mendenhall, 446 U.S. at 552-53, 100 S.Ct. 1870. Street encounters between citizens and police officers, like the encounter in this case, " are incredibly rich in diversity," and " [o]bviously[ ] not all personal intercourse between policemen and citizens involves ‘ seizures' of persons' " implicating the Fourth Amendment. Terry, 392 U.S. at 13, 19-20 n. 16, 88 S.Ct. 1868.

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