677 F.3d 605 (4th Cir. 2012), 11-4624, United States v. Laudermilt

Docket Nº:11-4624.
Citation:677 F.3d 605
Opinion Judge:SHEDD, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Jordan LAUDERMILT, Defendant-Appellee.
Attorney:William J. Ihlenfeld, II, Office of the United States Attorney, Wheeling, West Virginia, for Appellant. Brendan S. Leary, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Wheeling, West Virginia, for Appellee. Randolph J. Bernard, Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the United States Attorney, Whee...
Judge Panel:Before SHEDD, KEENAN, and FLOYD, Circuit Judges. Reversed and remanded by published opinion. Judge SHEDD wrote the opinion, in which Judge KEENAN and Judge FLOYD joined.
Case Date:May 03, 2012
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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677 F.3d 605 (4th Cir. 2012)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Jordan LAUDERMILT, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 11-4624.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

May 3, 2012

Argued: March 22, 2012.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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ARGUED:

William J. Ihlenfeld, II, Office of the United States Attorney, Wheeling, West Virginia, for Appellant.

Brendan S. Leary, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Wheeling, West Virginia, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Randolph J. Bernard, Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the United States Attorney, Wheeling, West Virginia, for Appellant.

Kristen M. Leddy, Research and Writing Specialist, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Martinsburg, West Virginia, for Appellee.

Before SHEDD, KEENAN, and FLOYD, Circuit Judges.

Reversed and remanded by published opinion. Judge SHEDD wrote the opinion, in which Judge KEENAN and Judge FLOYD joined.

OPINION

SHEDD, Circuit Judge:

A federal grand jury indicted Jordan Laudermilt on one count of possession of a firearm after a felony conviction, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a). Laudermilt moved before trial to suppress the firearm, arguing that the police seized

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it in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court agreed, and the Government noted a timely appeal under 18 U.S.C. § 3731. Because the police officers' actions in this case complied with the Fourth Amendment, we reverse.

I.

On the rainy evening of February 27, 2011, at around 10 p.m., Shannalee Kuri placed a 911 call to report that Laudermilt, who was her boyfriend, was threatening her and her family with a gun at his home in Wheeling, West Virginia.1 The Ohio County Sheriff's Department responded by sending five officers to the scene— Deputies Brooks, Costello, Moore, and Bise, and Sergeant Ernest. Because the residence was located close to the campus of West Liberty University, an officer from that Department, Sergeant Olejasz, also responded. The officers were familiar with the residence because of past domestic disputes involving its occupants.

The officers arrived at Laudermilt's property in staggered succession and approached the house, which was located at the end of a lane atop a hill. Shortly after arriving at the property, Sergeant Olejasz and Deputy Costello initiated a traffic stop of a vehicle leaving the residence because they noticed there was an individual " slouched" down in the passenger seat. (J.A. 154). After confirming that Laudermilt was not the passenger, the officers permitted the car to leave and continued up the hill. Outside the house, the officers encountered Kuri, her brother, and her father. Kuri and her father informed the officers that Laudermilt was inside the house with a gun. After the officers' arrival, Laudermilt— unaware of the officers' presence— intermittently exited the house onto the front porch to threaten Kuri and her family, shouting he would " kill" her and that he was going to " f* *k them up." (J.A. 91). Although the officers never witnessed Laudermilt with a gun, on one occasion he exited the house, knelt down out of view, picked something up, and returned inside. The officers determined the best course of action was to seize Laudermilt the next time he exited the house without a firearm. When Laudermilt did so, the officers quickly moved in and took him into custody.

At that point, Deputies Costello, Brooks, and Moore, along with Sergeant Ernest, entered the residence to perform a protective sweep. Laudermilt shouted to Deputy Bise and Sergeant Olejasz— who were securing his arrest— that his 14-year-old brother, J. Lee Pritt, was in the house. Laudermilt also informed them that Pritt was autistic. The four officers performed a protective sweep of the upstairs of the house, with Deputy Costello and Deputy Moore covering the bedrooms on the right side of the house, and Deputy Brooks and Sergeant Ernest sweeping the bedrooms to the left. In performing the sweep, Deputy Costello quickly found Pritt, who was " shaking" and talking on the phone with his mother, informing her of the police presence. (J.A. 128). Deputy Costello escorted Pritt downstairs, attempting to calm him. Costello initially walked Pritt outside but then returned him inside to the kitchen. By this time, Deputy Bise had entered the house and was sitting in the kitchen. As Pritt came into the kitchen and sat down, Deputy Bise asked him if he knew where the gun was. Pritt, who had been " freaking out" and " panicking," stood up and walked to a pantry off the kitchen and pointed to a rifle sitting in plain view

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on a gun rack. (J.A. 116). While Deputy Bise secured the rifle, Deputy Brooks and Sergeant Ernest continued to complete their sweep. The total sweep, from start to finish, lasted about five minutes.

At the time the officers conducted the search, there was conflicting information regarding how many occupants might be in the house. Deputy Brooks testified that, pursuant to the radio call he received, he believed Laudermilt and two other males were in the house, and that when he began the sweep, he believed two subjects might still be in the home. (J.A. 77, 83). Deputy Costello testified that Laudermilt told him another person was inside, and that Deputy Bise later called out that Laudermilt's autistic brother was in the home. (J.A. 134-35). Deputies Moore and Bise testified that they believed only Pritt was inside, and Sergeant Ernest testified that the information about the number of occupants was unclear. As noted above, two individuals left the property as the officers arrived and Kuri and her family were also on the premises.

Based on the foregoing, a grand jury indicted Laudermilt for violating §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a). Laudermilt moved to suppress the firearm, and, following an evidentiary hearing, the magistrate judge recommended granting the motion. The magistrate judge concluded that a protective sweep of the home was authorized but that the " exigent circumstances" ended by the time the firearm was seized because " the residence had been secured." (J.A. 178). The judge explained, " [a]fter the protective sweep, the police officers had all individuals in the home that night either in police custody or under police control thereby negating any exigent circumstances argument." (J.A. 178).

After the Government filed objections to the magistrate judge's report, the district court adopted the report and granted the motion to suppress. The district court concluded that a protective sweep was authorized under Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325, 110 S.Ct. 1093, 108 L.Ed.2d 276 (1990), but that Buie did not permit officers " to seize the firearm after the residence had been secured and the protective sweep had ended." (J.A. 213). In the district court's view, because Laudermilt told Deputy Bise that only his brother was in the house, " Deputy Bise was aware that the house was secure when Pritt was brought downstairs to the kitchen," and that " [f]rom the perspective of Deputy Bise, a suspicion of danger could not have existed" after that point. (J.A. 214). The district court noted that the sweep itself was still ongoing while Bise spoke to Pritt in the kitchen and recovered the gun, but found that fact irrelevant because " it is Deputy Bise's knowledge that is key." (J.A. 214). The court recognized that the case " present[s] a situation in which conscientious law enforcement officers are working under potentially dangerous conditions and circumstances requiring action over a short period of time," but nonetheless concluded that the firearm's seizure violated the Fourth Amendment. (J.A. 215).

II.

In reviewing the grant of a suppression motion, we review the court's factual findings for clear error and its legal determinations de novo. United States v. Lewis, 606 F.3d 193, 197 (4th Cir.2010). In performing our review, " we must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, and give due weight to inferences drawn from those facts by resident judges and law enforcement officers." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

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A.

The Fourth Amendment protects " [t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. " It is a ‘ basic principle of Fourth Amendment law that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable.’ " Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403, 126 S.Ct. 1943, 164 L.Ed.2d 650 (2006) (quoting Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 559, 124 S.Ct. 1284, 157 L.Ed.2d 1068 (2004)). Nonetheless, this " presumption may be overcome in some circumstances because the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is ‘ reasonableness.’ " Kentucky v. King, __ U.S....

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