823 F.3d 793 (4th Cir. 2016), 14-4533, United States v. Gardner

Docket Nº:14-4533
Citation:823 F.3d 793
Opinion Judge:BARBARA MILANO KEENAN, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee, v. EZEKIEL DONJA GARDNER, Defendant - Appellant
Attorney:William Michael Dowling, BROOKS, PIERCE, MCLENDON, HUMPHREY & LEONARD, L.L.P., Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant. Phillip Anthony Rubin, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee. Thomas G. Walker, United States Attorney, Jennifer P. May-Parker, Assistant Un...
Judge Panel:Before MOTZ, GREGORY, and KEENAN, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:May 18, 2016
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
SUMMARY

Defendant was convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon and was sentenced as an armed career criminal based on his three prior convictions for felony common law robbery in North Carolina. The court affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress the handgun found in defendant's vehicle during a traffic stop, and the district court's denial of defendant's motion for a... (see full summary)

 
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Page 793

823 F.3d 793 (4th Cir. 2016)

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,

v.

EZEKIEL DONJA GARDNER, Defendant - Appellant

No. 14-4533

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

May 18, 2016

Argued March 24, 2016.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at Greenville. (4:11-cr-00065-F-1). James C. Fox, Senior District Judge.

ARGUED:

William Michael Dowling, BROOKS, PIERCE, MCLENDON, HUMPHREY & LEONARD, L.L.P., Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant.

Phillip Anthony Rubin, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Thomas G. Walker, United States Attorney, Jennifer P. May-Parker, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

Before MOTZ, GREGORY, and KEENAN, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

BARBARA MILANO KEENAN, Circuit Judge

Ezekiel Gardner was tried by a jury and found guilty of possession of a firearm by a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § § 922(g)(1), 924. The conviction was based on police officers' recovery of a handgun from Gardner's vehicle during a traffic stop, after receiving a tip from a confidential informant that Gardner, a felon, possessed a firearm. At sentencing, the district court determined that Gardner was an armed career criminal based on his three prior convictions for felony common law robbery in North Carolina (North Carolina common law robbery), and sentenced him to serve a term of 262 months' imprisonment.

On appeal, Gardner challenges: (1) the district court's denial of his motion to suppress the search of his vehicle and certain statements he made to the police; (2) the court's denial of his motion for a new trial; and (3) the court's determination at sentencing that he is an armed career criminal. Upon our review, we affirm the district court's denial of Gardner's motion to suppress and his motion for a new trial. However, because we conclude that North Carolina common law robbery is not categorically a violent felony, we hold that the district court erred in sentencing Gardner as an armed career criminal. Accordingly, we vacate Gardner's sentence and remand for resentencing.

I.

A.

The government's evidence regarding the traffic stop showed that on January 13, 2011, Detective Kenneth Adams of the police department in Farmville, North Carolina, received a telephone call from a reliable, confidential informant. The woman stated that Gardner was a convicted felon who possessed a firearm, that he was driving a white Lincoln Town Car, and that he presently was located at a particular house on Thorne Street in Farmville. Detective Adams already had a working relationship with this informant, who had completed at least five controlled drug purchases for a regional drug enforcement task force, and consistently had provided accurate information.

Based on the informant's telephone call, Detective Adams, Lieutenant Paul McLawhorn, and Chief Donnie Greene proceeded in a squad car to the identified house on Thorne Street and saw a white Lincoln Town Car parked near the house. The officers drove around the block, taking time to confirm that Gardner was the registered owner of the vehicle. When the officers approached the house again, they saw that Gardner had entered the Lincoln and was driving toward a nearby intersection. The officers observed Gardner make a three-point turn in the intersection and begin driving in the opposite direction. The officers turned to follow Gardner's vehicle and initiated a traffic stop.

Detective Adams observed that " as soon as the blue lights come on, I saw [Gardner] dip down in the car, and I saw his right shoulder disappear as if he was -- he was either reaching for something or putting something under the seat." After Gardner stopped his car, Adams and McLawhorn approached the car. Adams held his gun at his side as he walked toward the driver-side door. Chief Greene remained in the squad car to request assistance.

Adams confirmed Gardner's identity by examining his driver's license, and asked Gardner to step out of the vehicle. Adams observed that Gardner appeared nervous and kept looking in the direction of the vehicle's floor. When Adams asked Gardner if he had any weapons on his person, Gardner replied that he did not. Upon conducting a patdown search of Gardner, Adams did not find a weapon. Adams ordered Gardner to walk to the rear of the vehicle, but did not place handcuffs on him at this time.

Adams informed Gardner that Adams had received information that Gardner had a firearm in his possession. When Adams asked Gardner if he had " anything illegal in his car," Gardner responded by hanging his head. Continuing, Adams asked, " What is it that is illegal in your car[?]." Gardner replied, " I have a gun." When asked if he was allowed to possess a firearm, Gardner stated that he was not and that he was a convicted felon.

McLawhorn searched the passenger compartment of the car, and found a handgun underneath the driver's seat. At that point, Gardner was placed in handcuffs and was taken to the police station.

After arriving at the station, Adams and Detective Rose Edmonds advised Gardner of his Miranda rights, which Gardner waived by signing a written waiver form. Gardner told the officers that he had purchased the gun from " Cobe," that Gardner later loaned the gun to " Pudgy," and that Gardner had received the firearm back from " Pudgy" that day.

B.

Before trial, Gardner moved to suppress both the evidence recovered from his car during the stop and the statements he made at the police station following his arrest. The district court denied the motion, concluding that the search was justified by the " automobile exception" to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment, and that, therefore, any post-arrest statements were lawfully obtained.

At trial, Gardner renewed his suppression motion. In addition to restating his earlier arguments, he also sought suppression of the statements he made to the police during the traffic stop on the ground that he was not advised of his Miranda rights. The district court again denied Gardner's motion, as well as his motion for judgment of acquittal. The jury found Gardner guilty of the offense charged, and the district court later denied Gardner's motion for a new trial.

At sentencing, Gardner challenged his classification as an armed career criminal. He argued that his predicate convictions for North Carolina common law robbery did not qualify categorically as violent felonies. The district court disagreed, concluding that the convictions qualified as violent felonies under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (the ACCA). See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B). The court sentenced Gardner...

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