United States v. Lewis, CRIMINAL ACTION 3:21-660-MGL

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
Docket NumberCRIMINAL ACTION 3:21-660-MGL
Decision Date11 July 2022




United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

July 11, 2022




Pending before the Court is Defendant Demetreus Alexa Lewis's (Lewis) motion to suppress. Lewis asks the Court to suppress evidence seized during a vehicle search incident to his arrest. Having carefully considered the motion, the response, the oral argument, the record, and the applicable law, it is the judgment of the Court Lewis's motion will be denied.


The evidence in this case indicates that in the early morning on January 15, 2021, Lewis was allegedly involved with a domestic violence incident with his girlfriend (the Alleged Victim) at a nightclub in Richland County, South Carolina, during which he fired a gun, striking at least one person. Richland County Sheriff's Department (RCSD) thereafter secured an arrest warrant for Lewis.


Officers with the Sumter City Police Department (SCPD) became aware of the incident and obtained information that Lewis was traveling in a car with the Alleged Victim and a driver and headed toward an address in Sumter, South Carolina. SCPD officers were in contact with RCSD, so learned of the existence of the warrant, which they also verified on the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. SCPD officers never saw nor possessed the warrant. SCPD officers also received a call, purportedly from one of the Alleged Victim's female family members, indicating that the group was in a red sedan headed to a home where Alleged Victim's children were staying.

The female family member also evidently called SCPD Detective Sergeant Buford Wilson's (Wilson) cell phone directly and used his first name when speaking on the phone with him. Wilson testified he knows the Alleged Victim's father. He fails to remember, however, which family member he spoke to. The caller told Wilson what path the red car, purportedly containing Lewis, was taking. SCPD officers failed to verify the vehicle's path; instead, they went to the expected destination.

The first officers on the scene were SCPD Lieutenant Joseph Lane (Lane) and SCPD Detective Staff Sergeant Robert Skinner (Skinner). They were wearing vests equipped with body worn cameras (BWCs), but they failed to activate them during the incident. Wilson and three uniformed patrol officers arrived, purportedly only seconds later. Wilson also failed to activate his BWC, but the uniformed patrol officers did.

When the red car pulled into the driveway of the home where the Alleged Victim's children were staying, SCPD officers saw there were three occupants. They reported the car was a Ford Focus, although it was in fact a Mercury Milan.


The officers surrounded the red car with their guns drawn and ordered Lewis and the driver out of the car. Both Lewis and the driver were placed in handcuffs. Lane testified that, as he was pulling the driver out of the car, he saw a bag of marijuana on the door ledge of the driver's-side door. Skinner testified that as he was removing Lewis from the car, he saw two firearms pushed partway under the front-passenger seat.

The officers asked the driver for his consent to search the vehicle. He was initially hesitant, but the officers testified he eventually provided consent. SCPD officers failed to obtain a signed consent-to-search form.

Officers searched the car. There is no BWC footage of the search, but the officers did take some pictures, albeit blurry. The search revealed the previously noted marijuana and firearms, as well as drugs and drug paraphernalia in the center console.

SCPD officers took Lewis to the SCPD headquarters, where RCSD officers evidently arrived and served the warrant.

A grand jury thereafter indicted Lewis of felon in possession of firearms and ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2) and (e). Lewis filed this motion to suppress, to which the government responded. The Court subsequently held a hearing. At the hearing, the government called Lane, Skinner, and Wilson as witnesses. Lewis declined to call any witnesses.

After hearing the testimony of the witnesses and argument from the government and Lewis, the Court took the matter under advisement. The Court, having been fully briefed on the relevant issues, will now adjudicate the motion.



A. Fifth Amendment

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides, in relevant part, that “[n]o person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” U.S. Const. Amend. V. Courts must examine procedural due process questions in two steps. Stewart v. Bailey, 7 F.3d 384, 392 (4th Cir. 1993). First, they must determine “whether there exists a liberty or property interest which has been interfered with by the state.” Id. Second, they must “inquire[] whether the procedures attendant upon that deprivation were constitutionally sufficient.” Id. (citations omitted).

In certain specific instances, a state statute may give rise to a liberty interest and the corresponding due process protections. This occurs when the statute “plac[es] substantive limitations on official discretion.” Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238, 249 (1983). But, in cases where a due process violation is based off police failure to preserve or document potentially useful evidence, a defendant must “show bad faith on the part of the police.” See Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51, 58 (1988) (explaining this requirement “both limits the extent of the police's obligation to preserve evidence to reasonable bounds and confines it to that class of cases where the interests of justice most clearly require it”).

B. Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides, in relevant part, that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” U.S. Const. Amend. IV.


1. Seizure

Passengers in cars stopped by police are deemed seized for Fourth Amendment purposes and are entitled to challenge the constitutionality of the detention. Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 249, 251 (2007); see also United States v. Jones, 678 F.3d 293, 301 (4th Cir. 2012) (holding car blocked by police after it parked in apartment parking lot seized for Fourth Amendment purposes).

The Court must suppress evidence seized as a result of an unconstitutional seizure. See Brendlin, 551 U.S. at 251 (remanding state supreme court decision that denied suppression of evidence because it incorrectly determined defendant-passenger had not been seized for Fourth Amendment purposes during a stop).

To stop someone, even for investigatory purposes, an officer must possess “a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.” Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 123 (2000). “If police have a reasonable suspicion, grounded in specific and articulable facts, that a person they encounter was involved in or is wanted in connection with a completed felony,” then they may stop that person “to investigate that suspicion.” United States v. Hensley, 469 U.S. 221, 229, 235 (1985) (finding brief, investigatory stop of defendant in objective reliance on another police department's “wanted flyer” was justified where flyer was issued based on reasonable, articulatable suspicion that the person committed the...

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