589 F.3d 148 (4th Cir. 2009), 08-4045, United States v. Griffin

Docket Nº:08-4045.
Citation:589 F.3d 148
Opinion Judge:SHEDD, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Antonio Bernard GRIFFIN, Defendant-Appellant.
Attorney:Matthew Segal, Federal Defenders of Western North Carolina, Inc., Asheville, North Carolina, for Appellant. Mark Andrew Jones, Office of the United States Attorney, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellee. Claire J. Rauscher, Executive Director, Kevin Tate, Federal Defenders of Western North Caro...
Judge Panel:Before TRAXLER, Chief Judge, and GREGORY and SHEDD, Circuit Judges. Affirmed by published opinion. Judge SHEDD wrote the majority opinion, in which Chief Judge TRAXLER joined. Judge GREGORY wrote a dissenting opinion. GREGORY, Circuit Judge, dissenting:
Case Date:December 17, 2009
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Page 148

589 F.3d 148 (4th Cir. 2009)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Antonio Bernard GRIFFIN, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 08-4045.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

December 17, 2009

Argued: Sept. 22, 2009.

Page 149

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 150

ARGUED:

Matthew Segal, Federal Defenders of Western North Carolina, Inc., Asheville, North Carolina, for Appellant.

Mark Andrew Jones, Office of the United States Attorney, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Claire J. Rauscher, Executive Director, Kevin Tate, Federal Defenders of Western North Carolina, Inc., Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellant.

Gretchen C.F. Shappert, United States Attorney, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellee.

Before TRAXLER, Chief Judge, and GREGORY and SHEDD, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge SHEDD wrote the majority opinion, in which Chief Judge TRAXLER joined. Judge GREGORY wrote a dissenting opinion.

OPINION

SHEDD, Circuit Judge:

Antonio Bernard Griffin appeals his conviction and sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). Griffin contends that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress the firearm by holding that (1) the police officers who arrested him had reasonable suspicion to perform an investigatory stop of his vehicle under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), and (2) the officers were justified in conducting a protective search of his vehicle under Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 103 S.Ct. 3469, 77 L.Ed.2d 1201 (1983). For the following reasons, we reject these contentions and affirm.

I.

In reviewing the denial of a suppression motion, we construe the facts in the light most favorable to the government United States v. Murphy, 552 F.3d 405, 409 (4th Cir.2009). The evidence presented during the suppression hearing establishes that the Value-Lodge Motel in Charlotte, North Carolina, was well known to officers of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department as a location for violent crime and drug trafficking. On the evening of September 28, 2005, someone called 911 from a second floor room of the Value-Lodge reporting a man in possession of a gun. The 911 call center relayed this information, including the caller's room number, to Officer Crystal Lee Clifton, and she responded to the call. Upon arriving at the Value-Lodge, Officer Clifton proceeded to the second floor room from which the call was made and talked with one of the room's occupants (the " informant" ) who was aware that the call had been placed. Shortly thereafter, Officer Brian Carey, who was also responding to the 911 call, arrived at the Value-Lodge.1

Page 151

While Officer Clifton was talking to the informant, a white Cadillac drove past in the parking lot below, and the informant immediately pointed to the vehicle and identified the driver as the man with the gun. Officer Carey returned to his patrol car and pursued the Cadillac which was exiting the Value-Lodge parking lot. He proceeded approximately 50 feet and then entered a nearby parking lot where the Cadillac was turning around. Officer Clifton remained with the informant.

Officer Carey then initiated a traffic stop of the vehicle and its sole occupant, Antonio Griffin. When Griffin exited the vehicle, he " started looking around" and " kept turning around like he was going to take off running." J.A. 27, 43. Officer Carey conducted a Terry frisk of Griffin and, out of concern for his safety, handcuffed Griffin and placed him in the backseat of the patrol car. While Officer Carey was speaking with Griffin, Officer Clifton and another officer arrived on the scene. At this time, an individual approached the officers claiming to know Griffin, and onlookers from the motel gathered at the scene. Officer Clifton thereafter performed a search of the passenger compartment of Griffin's car, finding a pistol on the driver's side floorboard. Officer Clifton seized the weapon, and Officer Carey placed Griffin under arrest for carrying a concealed weapon.

Griffin was subsequently indicted for possessing the pistol after having been previously convicted of a felony, in violation of section 922(g). Griffin moved to suppress the pistol and other evidence not relevant to his appeal. Following a suppression hearing during which Officers Carey and Clifton testified, the district court ruled that the officers did not violate Griffin's Fourth Amendment rights. Relying on our decisions in United States v. Perkins and United States v. Christmas, 222 F.3d 141 (4th Cir.2000), the district court concluded that Officer Carey had reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop based upon the face-to-face encounter between Officer Clifton and the informant. The district court also concluded that the protective search of Griffin's vehicle was justified. Thereafter, Griffin conditionally pled guilty, retaining the right to appeal the district court's order denying the suppression motion. After accepting this plea, the district court sentenced Griffin to 40 months of imprisonment.

Griffin filed a timely notice of appeal, and we possess jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. On appeal, Griffin argues that both the stop of his vehicle and the protective search of his vehicle were unconstitutional.

II.

We review the district court's factual findings for clear error and its legal conclusions de novo. Murphy, 552 F.3d at 409. The district court's ultimate conclusion

Page 152

that the traffic stop and protective search are constitutional is a legal conclusion which we review de novo. United States v. Reaves, 512 F.3d 123, 126 (4th Cir.2008).

A.

A law enforcement officer may initiate a brief investigatory stop if the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that " criminal activity may be afoot." Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). In determining whether an officer had reasonable suspicion, we view the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the officer had " a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity." United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417-418, 101 S.Ct. 690, 66 L.Ed.2d 621 (1981). Although the reasonable suspicion standard " defies precise definition," United States v. McCoy, 513 F.3d 405, 411 (4th Cir.2008), it is less demanding than probable cause, Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 330, 110 S.Ct. 2412, 110 L.Ed.2d 301 (1990), and falls " considerably short of satisfying a preponderance of the evidence standard," United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 274, 122 S.Ct. 744, 151 L.Ed.2d 740 (2002).

In cases such as this, where the officer met with the informant in a face-to-face encounter,2 we have considered numerous factors to determine whether the officer had reasonable suspicion to effect a Terry stop. For example, we have examined whether the officer had the opportunity to observe the informant's credibility and demeanor and whether the officer could later hold the informant accountable for making false accusations. See, e.g., Christmas, 222 F.3d at 144.3 We have also considered whether the informant reported to the police in public, exposing himself to retaliation from the suspect and increasing the informant's reliability. See, e.g., id. We also have looked to the informant's proximity to the reported activity as a factor in determining his reliability. See, e.g., id. ; Perkins, 363 F.3d at 322. Additionally, we have placed importance on the officer's personal experience in investigating similar activity at the reported location in justifying the stop. See, e.g., Perkins, 363 F.3d at 322. Finally, the Supreme Court has stated that less scrutiny is required as to an informant's basis of knowledge where a citizen whose honesty has not been questioned reports criminal activity " which if fabricated would subject him to criminal liability." Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 233-34, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983).

Page 153

Here, Officer Clifton spoke with the informant and remained with the informant when Officer Carey left in pursuit of Griffin, giving her further opportunity to observe the informant's credibility and demeanor. Having observed the informant's physical appearance and location, the officers could have returned to the Value-Lodge and tracked him down to hold him accountable if his accusations had proven false. The informant met with Officer Clifton in public, thereby exposing himself to retaliation from Griffin. In addition, the informant was in close proximity to Griffin's vehicle when he spoke with Officer Clifton. Further, Officer Carey was familiar with the Value-Lodge and had taken numerous calls reporting dangerous weapons from that motel, thereby contributing to his reasonable suspicion for the stop. Finally, there are no facts in the record that call into question the informant's honesty or motivation. In short, we agree with the district court that the circumstances of the face-to-face encounter between the informant and Officer Clifton provided sufficient reasonable suspicion to justify the Terry stop of Griffin's vehicle.4

B.

Griffin also challenges the actual search of his vehicle which resulted in the seizure of the pistol. When officers conduct a Terry stop of an automobile,

the search of the passenger compartment of an automobile, limited to those areas in which a weapon may be placed or hidden, is permissible if the police officer possesses a reasonable belief based on specific and articulable facts which, taken together with the rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the officer in believing that the suspect is dangerous and the suspect may gain immediate control of weapons.

Long, 463 U.S. at 1049, 103 S.Ct. 3469 (internal quotation marks omitted). In order to conduct a lawful protective search of a stopped vehicle under Long, an...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP