703 F.3d 684 (4th Cir. 2013), 11-4371, United States v. Watson

Docket Nº:11-4371.
Citation:703 F.3d 684
Opinion Judge:BARBARA MILANO KEENAN, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Prentiss WATSON, Defendant-Appellant.
Attorney:Susan Amelia Hensler, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant. Christopher M. Mason, Office of the United States Attorney, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee. James Wyda, Federal Public Defender, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant. Rod J. Rosenstein, United States...
Judge Panel:Before NIEMEYER and KEENAN, Circuit Judges, and MICHAEL F. URBANSKI, United States District Judge for the Western District of Virginia, sitting by designation. KEENAN, Judge wrote the majority opinion, in which Judge URBANSKI joined. Judge NIEMEYER wrote a dissenting opinion. NIEMEYER, Circuit Ju...
Case Date:January 02, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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Page 684

703 F.3d 684 (4th Cir. 2013)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Prentiss WATSON, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 11-4371.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

January 2, 2013

Argued: Sept. 20, 2012.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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ARGUED:

Susan Amelia Hensler, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant.

Christopher M. Mason, Office of the United States Attorney, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

James Wyda, Federal Public Defender, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant.

Rod J. Rosenstein, United States Attorney, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.

Before NIEMEYER and KEENAN, Circuit Judges, and MICHAEL F. URBANSKI, United States District Judge for the Western District of Virginia, sitting by designation.

Vacated and remanded by published opinion.

KEENAN, Judge wrote the

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majority opinion, in which Judge URBANSKI joined. Judge NIEMEYER wrote a dissenting opinion.

OPINION

BARBARA MILANO KEENAN, Circuit Judge:

Prentiss Watson was convicted by a jury of possession of a firearm by a felon, and of possession of ammunition by a felon, each in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). On appeal, he challenges the district court's denial of his motion to suppress an incriminating statement he made after being detained by police for three hours without probable cause. The detention occurred inside a convenience store where Watson was working, while the police awaited authorization for a search warrant involving drug-related activities of other persons.

After the district court denied Watson's motion to suppress, Watson was convicted of both offenses following a four-day jury trial. He argues that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress because his incriminating statement was the product of an illegal detention. Upon our review, we hold that: (1) Watson's three-hour detention constituted an unlawful custodial arrest in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights; (2) the taint of the unlawful custodial arrest was not purged by the two Miranda warnings provided during his detention or by any intervening circumstance; and (3) the erroneous admission of Watson's statement was not harmless error. Accordingly, we vacate Watson's convictions, and remand the case to the district court.

I.

Watson worked at a convenience store, which was located at 2700 Tivoly Avenue (the building) in Baltimore, Maryland. He also lived in the building, in a room located on the second floor. There were two other rooms located on that floor.

On February 23, 2010, detectives employed by the Baltimore City Police Department (the officers) were conducting surveillance of the block on which the building is located. After the officers observed some individuals engaging in suspected drug transactions near the building, the officers made several arrests. Anthony Jackson, who lived in a second-floor room in the building and was one of the individuals arrested, had been observed entering and leaving the building during the course of a suspected drug transaction. The officers thought that Jackson was carrying a weapon at the time of the suspected drug transaction 1 but, when Jackson was arrested after leaving the building, the officers did not find a weapon on his person.

After arresting Jackson, the officers decided to obtain a search warrant for the building. At that point, one of the officers, Detective Richard Jamison, began preparing the search warrant application, while several other officers entered the building to secure it and to prevent the destruction of evidence. As described by Detective Jamison, law enforcement officers in Baltimore City generally secure a building as follows:

[W]e make entry, in general, and always, we check every location a human being could be to make sure that we're all safe, and we don't have armed suspects in the [building]. We take those individuals. We secure them in a central location where they could be

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watched for everyone's safety. And then we get the warrant, assuming we don't already have a warrant.

The officers' efforts to secure the building were in conformance with these procedures. Upon entering the building, the officers encountered two individuals in the convenience store section of the building, Keta Steele, the owner of the store, and Watson. The officers immediately instructed Watson and Steele to " sit down," and advised them of their rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). Neither Watson nor Steele was among the individuals the officers observed engaging in the suspected drug transactions near the building, and the officers did not have information linking Watson or Steele to criminal activity of any kind.

The officers kept Watson and Steele in the back area of the store for about three hours while waiting for Detective Jamison to return with a search warrant.2 During this time, the officers did not inform Watson or Steele that they were free to leave, nor did the officers ask Watson or Steele any questions about the criminal activity observed near the building.

When Detective Jamison returned to the building with the search warrant, the officer who had restrained Watson again advised him of his Miranda rights while Detective Jamison began a search of the second-floor rooms. During his search of the second floor, Detective Jamison observed a shotgun in the " back room," and returned to the first floor to ask Watson about the shotgun. Watson replied that he knew nothing about a shotgun, and stated that he lived in the " front room" on the second floor.3

Detective Jamison returned to the second floor to search the front room, where he observed a zipped toiletry bag lying near Watson's closet.4 When Detective Jamison opened the bag, he found a revolver and ammunition of various types. After recovering these items, Detective Jamison asked Watson about them. At that time, Watson replied, referring to the revolver: " [T]hat old thing, it doesn't even work."

Before trial, Watson filed a motion to suppress his statement on Fourth Amendment grounds, seeking to exclude from evidence the response he made to Detective Jamison about the revolver. Watson argued that he was subjected to an unlawful detention without probable cause, and that his statement should be suppressed as the product of an illegal arrest. The district court denied Watson's motion.

The case proceeded to trial, after which the jury found Watson guilty of both counts of violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).5 The jury's deliberations lasted for a period of more than nine hours, during which the jury twice asked the court to read portions of Detective Jamison's testimony concerning Watson's statement about the revolver.

The district court sentenced Watson to two concurrent terms of imprisonment of

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31 months. Watson filed a timely notice of appeal.

II.

On appeal, Watson challenges only the district court's denial of his motion to suppress. We review the district court's factual findings regarding the motion to suppress for clear error, and the court's legal conclusions de novo. United States v. Burgess, 684 F.3d 445, 452 (4th Cir.2012); United States v. Edwards, 666 F.3d 877, 882 (4th Cir.2011). When, as here, a motion to suppress has been denied, we view the evidence presented in the light most favorable to the government. United States v. McBride, 676 F.3d 385, 391 (4th Cir.2012).

A.

We first address the question whether Watson was " seized" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. A seizure warranting Fourth Amendment protection occurs when in view of the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person would not feel free to leave or otherwise to terminate an encounter with police. United States v. Lattimore, 87 F.3d 647, 653 (4th Cir.1996) (citing Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 438, 111 S.Ct. 2382, 115 L.Ed.2d 389 (1991)). As a general rule, a seizure requires either the use of physical force or, absent the use of such force, a submission to an officer's assertion of authority. California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621, 626, 111 S.Ct. 1547, 113 L.Ed.2d 690 (1991).

The government concedes that Watson was " seized" at the time of his initial detention. We agree that a seizure occurred here, because a reasonable person in Watson's position would not have felt " free to leave" the area of the building in which he was held, or otherwise to terminate the encounter with the officers. When the officers entered the building, they instructed Watson to " sit down," informed him of his Miranda rights, and kept him confined to a limited area during the entire three-hour detention. Accordingly, the officers' actions effected a seizure of Watson, within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

B.

We turn to consider the issue whether Watson's seizure and detention violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from " unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. In cases involving a seizure, the standard of " reasonableness" typically is satisfied by a showing that the police had probable cause to conclude that the individual seized was involved in criminal activity. Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 213-14, 99 S.Ct. 2248, 60 L.Ed.2d 824 (1979). This standard of probable cause constitutes " the minimum justification necessary to make the kind of intrusion involved in an arrest ‘ reasonable’ under the Fourth Amendment." Id. at 208, 99 S.Ct. 2248. As a general rule, " an official seizure of the person must be supported by probable cause, even if no formal arrest is made." Michigan v. Summers, 452...

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