Sixth Circuit Reverses District Court's Refusal to Suppress Evidence Resulting From an Unreasonable Search and Seizure

Sixth Circuit Reverses District Court's Refusal to Suppress Evidence Resulting From an Unreasonable Search and Seizure

The Sixth Circuit decided U.S. v. Gevoyl Beauchamp, yesterday. Beauchamp pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine but later appealed arguing that the District Court was wrong when it refused to suppress evidence of drugs found pursuant to a search of Beauchamp. Specifically, he argued that the search of his person was unlawfully conducted.  It was without reasonable suspicion.

At 2:30 am on February 15, 2008 law enforcement was patrolling near the Jacob Price housing project in Covington, Kentucky due to an increase in drug activity. Officer Dees saw Beauchamp talking with another individual. When Beauchamp saw the officer, he hurriedly walked away without making eye contact. Officer Dees told his partner, Officer Fain to stop the "suspicious subject." Officer Fain followed Beauchamp in his patrol car, parking next to an iron fence where Beauchamp stood. He told Beauchamp to stop and walk back towards his patrol car. The officer testified that he looked "very nervous, visibly shaking." Officer Fain asked Beauchamp where he had been and where he was going. Beauchamp gave vague answers but complied with the officer's requests. Officer Fain then frisked Beauchamp for weapons. While conducting the frisk, he asked Beauchamp if he had anything the officer should be aware of. Beauchamp replied that he did not. The Officer didn't find any weapons, but then asked Beauchamp if he could conduct a further search. Beauchamp said yes. Officer Fain noticed plastic hidden in Beauchamp's underwear.

Officer Dees then arrived and recognized Beauchamp from previous encounters. Officer Fain gave Officer Dees a look indicating he found something while conducting the search. Once Officer Dees began to search his pants, Beauchamp tried to run. He was stopped and Officer Fain found the plastic which contained rocks of crack cocaine.

Beauchamp filed a motion to suppress the evidence found from the search at trial, but the district court refused. He appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Court began its analysis by stating that there are three different types of permissible encounters between civilians and police officers: 1) consensual encounters which may be initiated without any form of suspicion; 2) the investigative detention, which if non-consensual, must be supported by a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity; and 3) the arrest, valid only if supported by probable cause. Since the Fourth Amendment applies to all searches and seizures, the Court first analyzed whether the stop of Beauchamp was a seizure, warranting Fourth Amendment protection. A seizure occurs when, after looking at all circumstances surrounding the event, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave. The Court held that a reasonable person in Beauchamp's position would not believe that he was free to leave. He had been pursued by both officers and instructed to stop and walk back towards Officer Fain. After being pursued by both officers, Beauchamp would have been reasonable in believing that the two officers were targeting him, thus believing that he was not free to leave. The Court held that this was a seizure and that the seizure occurred once Beauchamp and Officer Fain spoke at the fence.

The Court then analyzed whether the officers had reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop and search Beauchamp. In order to do so, the Court had to examine the totality of the circumstances as they existed at the time of the stop. There were five facts the district court alluded to: that Beauchamp was 1) recognized by an officer from previous encounters, 2) at 2:30 in the morning, 3) in a housing project that was the source of many drug complaints, 4) with another individual, and 5) he hurriedly walked away from the police while avoiding eye contact.

The court stated that the first fact is not applicable to this analysis because Officer Dees only recognized Beauchamp after the search had already begun. The second and third facts, the court said, should be applied carefully. The Court explained that just because Beauchamp was in a drug-prone housing project at 2:30 in the morning, was not enough to establish reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Officer Dees did not see Beauchamp engage in anything resembling drug activity; all he saw was Beauchamp with another person before he walked away. The fourth fact - that Beauchamp was seen with another person - is not indicative of criminal activity. The fifth fact - hurriedly walking away from the officer without making eye contact - is also not enough to establish reasonable suspicion. The Sixth Circuit has regularly held that merely walking away from the police, without any other suspicious conduct, does not establish reasonable suspicion.

Without reasonable suspicion, the search of Beauchamp was unlawful. The Court further held that although Beauchamp consented to a search of his person, consent that is obtained after an illegal seizure is tainted and does not justify a search. This rule was articulated by the United States Supreme Court and has been regularly applied in the Sixth Circuit.

Because the initial seizure was unlawful, the subsequent search of Beauchamp was unlawful regardless of his consent. Given this conclusion, the Court held that the evidence should have been suppressed. The Court reversed the District Court and remanded for further proceedings.


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