Sharpe v. U.S.

Decision Date04 September 1981
Docket Number79-5315,Nos. 79-5314,s. 79-5314
Citation660 F.2d 967
PartiesWilliam Harris SHARPE, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES of America, Appellee. Donald Davis SAVAGE, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES of America, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

Mark J. Kadish, Atlanta, Ga. (Rhonda A. Brofman, E. Marcus Davis, Kadish, Davis & Brofman, P. C., Atlanta, Ga., Larry Turner, Dennis E. O'Neill, Burkett, Wooddy, Bargmann & Cisa, Charleston, S.C., Edward T. M. Garland, Garland, Nuckolls & Catts, P. A., Atlanta, Ga., on brief), for appellants.

Lionel S. Lofton, Asst. U. S. Atty., Charleston, S.C. (Thomas E. Lydon, Jr., U. S. Atty., Columbia, S.C., on brief), for appellee.

Before WINTER, RUSSELL and ERVIN, Circuit Judges.

ERVIN, Circuit Judge:

William Sharpe and Donald Savage were indicted for possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance (marijuana) under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. 1 At the hearing on the motions to suppress, which was conducted during the bench trial of these charges, Sharpe and Savage challenged the admission of certain evidence as the fruit of unlawful searches and seizures in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court denied the motions and consequently found them guilty under the above statutes. We find the denial of the motions to suppress to be error and reverse.


On June 9, 1978, Luther Cooke, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), on patrol in an unmarked car along the coast of North and South Carolina, an area under surveillance for suspected drug trafficking, spotted a pickup truck with an attached shell camper, followed by a Pontiac. Observing that the truck was riding low in the rear and appeared overloaded, and that a quilted material covered the rear window of the camper, Cooke proceeded to follow the vehicles south. After approximately twenty miles, Cooke determined that he would make an investigatory stop of the vehicles, and he dispatched a request for aid, to which South Carolina Highway Patrolman Thrasher responded.

Some time after Thrasher joined the procession, the Pontiac and the truck turned onto a loop road through a campground. At no time prior to the turn had the occupants of the truck or vehicle signalled to or communicated with each other, and they did not attempt to do so as they drove the loop road through the campground. Thrasher later testified, however, that the truck and Pontiac were speeding as they drove along that road. At the end of the loop, the vehicles turned back onto the main coastal highway and again proceeded south toward Myrtle Beach.

Shortly thereafter, Cooke stopped the Pontiac and Thrasher stopped the truck. Cooke approached the Pontiac's occupants and identified himself. He requested and received an operator's license from the driver, Sharpe; the license was in the name of Raymond J. Pavlovich. Sharpe and his passenger Davis (the charges against whom were later dropped) were not told why they had been stopped. Several minutes later, Cooke radioed the local police for assistance, and two officers from the Myrtle Beach Police Department eventually arrived, in uniform and armed. Asking the local police to "maintain the situation," Cooke turned custody of Sharpe and Davis over to them and left to join Thrasher, who was with the truck a few blocks further south.

After stopping the truck, Thrasher had approached it with his revolver drawn, had ordered the driver to get out of the truck and to assume a spread-eagle position against its side, and had searched him. At Thrasher's request, the driver had produced a Florida license identifying him as William Savage and a bill of sale for the truck in the name of Pavlovich. Thrasher gave Savage no reason for the stop but indicated that he would hold him there until Cooke arrived. Savage had then requested the return of his license and permission to leave. Thrasher had refused to return the license and told Savage that he was not free to leave, as he was under custodial arrest, and that he could detain Savage on speeding charges if necessary.

When Cooke arrived approximately fifteen minutes after the truck had been stopped, he identified himself as a DEA agent, and Thrasher handed him Savage's license and the bill of sale. Cooke twice requested that he be allowed to search the camper and was refused both times. Cooke then stepped onto the rear bumper and observed that it did not lower appreciably. He leaned against the rear of the camper, breathed deeply, and announced that he detected the smell of marijuana. Cooke removed the keys from the ignition, unlocked the camper and searched it, finding a number of highly compressed, well-wrapped burlap bales but no marijuana residue.

After the search of the camper, Cooke placed Savage under arrest and left him in Thrasher's custody while he returned to the Pontiac, where he placed Sharpe under arrest. By the time Sharpe was arrested, approximately thirty to forty minutes had elapsed since Cooke had first stopped the Pontiac.

Cooke then assembled the various parties and vehicles and led them to the Myrtle Beach police station. That evening the truck was driven to the Federal Building in Charleston, and two or three days later, Cooke supervised the unloading of the truck, which contained forty-three intact bales. Eight randomly selected bales were then searched, and analysis of samples taken from them revealed that the bales contained marijuana. No search warrant was obtained prior to the unloading and analyzing of the bales and their contents. Cooke retained two of the eight bales as evidence and stored them in a vault in his office; the rest were destroyed by fire, under the direction of the Assistant United States Attorney and without permission of the district court.


We consider first whether the vehicle stops and the detentions of Sharpe and Savage were unlawful seizures under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The Fourth Amendment, applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081 (1961), provides that "(t)he right of the people to be secure in their persons ... and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause ...." U.S.Const. amend. IV. The amendment has been construed generally to allow a law enforcement official to stop a moving vehicle without a warrant and for less than probable cause, if he has an articulable, reasonable suspicion that either the vehicle or any of its occupants is subject to seizure for violation of the law, see Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 663, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 1401, 59 L.Ed.2d 660 (1979), and has been read in particular to allow investigatory field stops of vehicles suspected of drug trafficking, see, e. g., United States v. Jimenez, 602 F.2d 139, 142 (7th Cir. 1979); United States v. Soto, 591 F.2d 1091, 1099 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 442 U.S. 930, 99 S.Ct. 2862, 61 L.Ed.2d 298 (1979); United States v. Montgomery, 561 F.2d 875, 879 (D.C.Cir. 1977); United States v. Garcia-Rodriguez, 558 F.2d 956, 964 (9th Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1050, 98 S.Ct. 900, 54 L.Ed.2d 802 (1978).

Even though the reasonable suspicion standard requires less evidence of wrongdoing than does a showing of probable cause, the law does not free law enforcement officials from all restrictions concerning vehicle stops. Rather, it imposes upon them two significant requirements: first, the reasonable suspicion of illegality must not be based simply on subjective belief but must be supported by articulable and objective facts, and second, the stop must be brief. See, e. g., United States v. Cortez, --- U.S. ----, 101 S.Ct. 690, 66 L.Ed.2d 621 (1981); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 95 S.Ct. 2574, 45 L.Ed.2d 607 (1975); see also Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 99 S.Ct. 2248, 60 L.Ed.2d 824 (1979).

We can assume without deciding that Cooke had an articulable and reasonable suspicion that Sharpe and Savage were engaged in marijuana trafficking when he and Thrasher stopped the Pontiac and the truck. We conclude, however, that the stops failed to meet the requirement of brevity.

We cannot overemphasize the importance of the brevity requirement for investigatory stops predicated upon less than probable cause; indeed, it is the transitory nature of the stop that justifies the elimination of the probable cause requirement. We note that the Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), heavily relied upon the short length of a stop on the street and a frisk for weapons in fashioning an exception to the probable cause requirement. Furthermore, when the Court transposed the Terry stop and frisk rationale to the vehicle stop situation, it was careful to emphasize the de minimis nature of such stops in justifying the intrusion under the Fourth Amendment. In Brignoni-Ponce, for instance, the Court noted that the Fourth Amendment required a weighing of the public interest against the interference with individual liberty that a stop causes, and it justified the border patrol investigatory stop in that case on the ground that the intrusion was "modest," usually "consum(ing) no more than one minute," and involving only "a brief question or two." 422 U.S. at 880, 95 S.Ct. at 2579-80. The Court further cautioned that "any further detention or search must be based on consent or probable cause." Id. at 882, 95 S.Ct. at 2580; see also United States v. Cortez, --- U.S. at ----, 101 S.Ct. at 694 (denominating investigatory stops as brief).

The stops and detention in this case cannot be described as brief: Sharpe was detained without probable cause for arrest for thirty to forty minutes before Cooke returned to the Pontiac to arrest him, and Savage was held under custodial arrest without probable cause by Thrasher for at least fifteen minutes before...

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