Case Summaries – Prepared by the Legal Training Division at FLETC
Circuit Court of Appeals
United States v. Pyles, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 26238 (6th Cir. KY Sep. 17, 2018)
A Kentucky State trooper noticed a car traveling 63 miles per hour in a 70-miles per hour zone, while other vehicles on the road were going much faster. The trooper followed the car and ran its license plate number through a computer database. The trooper discovered the car’s owner, Angela Burdine, had an outstanding arrest warrant. Although the trooper could see the car contained three or possibly four occupants, he could not tell the gender of the individuals in the backseat.
The trooper stopped the car and as he approached, he saw Joshua Pyles stuffing something under a pile of clothes in the back seat. When one of the occupants rolled down a window, the trooper smelled marijuana. After back up officers arrived, they searched the car and found methamphetamine, marijuana, and a loaded handgun.
The government charged the three occupants of the car, Joshua Pyles, Jason Whitis, and Robbie Whitis with drug and firearm offenses.
Pyles filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized from the car. Pyles argued that the stop violated the Fourth Amendment because the trooper knew the car contained only three males, not Angela Burdine, a female, the registered owner for whom the warrant had been issued.
The court noted that once an officer discovers that a car’s owner has an outstanding arrest warrant, the officer needs only reasonable suspicion that the owner is in the vehicle to conduct a lawful traffic stop. To establish reasonable suspicion, an officer may infer that the registered owner of a car is in the car, unless the officer has information to the contrary.
In this case, the court held that the trooper had reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop. First, the trooper knew that Angela Burdine owned the car, and he knew that she had an outstanding arrest warrant. Second, the trooper knew the car had at least three or four occupants. Finally, before the trooper stopped and approached the car, he could not determine the gender of the back-seat passenger and could not tell whether there were more passengers in the car.
United States v. Peterson, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 25029 (9th Cir. WA Sep. 4, 2018)
Police officers arrested Peterson on outstanding misdemeanor warrants. During the arrest, Peterson twice broke away from the officers and tried to escape on foot. After securing Peterson in the back of a patrol car, an officer searched Peterson’s backpack and found a stolen handgun. The officers transported Peterson to jail where he was booked on charges of unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of a stolen firearm, both felony offenses.
The government charged Peterson with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Peterson filed a motion to suppress the handgun.
The district court held that, under the circumstances, the warrantless search of Peterson’s backpack was not justified as a search incident to his arrest. Instead, the district court held that the handgun would have inevitably been discovered during an inventory search at the time of booking.
On appeal, Peterson argued that the search of his backpack was not inevitable. Peterson claimed that if the officers had not unlawfully searched his backpack incident to arrest, they would have only had cause to book him on his misdemeanor warrants, for which he would have posted bail and avoided the inventory search altogether.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that Peterson’s backpack would not have been subject to an inventory search had the officers only arrested him for his misdemeanor warrants. The court found that Peterson presented evidence that he would have been able to post bail for his misdemeanor offenses, thereby avoiding the booking and inventory search process.
However, the court found that the officers would have booked Peterson for obstructing law enforcement officers or resisting arrest even if they had not discovered the handgun in Peterson’s backpack. As a result, because bail had not yet been set on those charges, the court concluded that Peterson would have been taken into custody upon booking, and the contents of his backpack would have been inventoried. The court concluded that under these circumstances, officers would have inevitably discovered the handgun.
Scott v. Cty. of San Bernardino, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 25568 (9th Cir. CA Sep. 10, 2018)
A middle school assistant principal asked a school resource officer to counsel a group of girls who had been involved in ongoing incidents of bullying and fighting. School officials gathered the girls in a classroom and when the officer arrived, he attempted to mediate the conflict between the students. After the officer concluded that the girls were being unresponsive and disrespectful, the officer told the girls that he was not “playing around,” and that taking them to jail was the easiest way to “prove a point” and “make them mature a lot faster.” The officer then told the girls that he was going to arrest them for unlawful fighting in violation of California Penal Code § 415. The officer called for backup and when another officer arrived, the officers arrested seven girls, who were then handcuffed, transported to the sheriff’s department, and released to their parents. The school took no disciplinary action against the girls and no criminal charges were filed.
Three of the girls sued the officers claiming that arresting them without probable cause violated the Fourth Amendment and state law.
The district court denied the officers qualified immunity and the officers appealed.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the district court and held that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity.
First, the court held that it was unreasonable to arrest the students because the officers only had generalized allegations that some of the students had been bickering and fighting, not specific information. At most, the officers knew that one of the girls had been in a fight on campus one month prior. Second, the school resource officer told the students that he was arresting them to “prove a point” and to “teach them a lesson.” The officer added that he “did not care” who was at fault. The court found that the officer’s clearly stated justification for the arrests was to punish perceived disrespect, and was not related to the commission of a crime. The court concluded that an arrest meant only to “teach a lesson” and to arbitrarily punish perceived disrespect toward the officer violated the Fourth Amendment.
Second, the court held that at the time of the incident, no reasonable officer could have reasonably believed that the law authorizes the arrest of a group of middle school students to “prove a point.”
Ioane v. Hodges, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 25569 (9th Cir. CA Sep. 10, 2018)
In June 2006, special agents with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation Division obtained a warrant to search Michael and Shelly Ioane’s residence for records, computers, computer-related equipment, and computer storage devices. When the agents arrived, they told Michael and Shelly they could remain on the premises if they cooperated with the agents conducting the search. However, the agents told the Ioanes that if they chose to leave the premises they would not be allowed to return. Michael and Shelly remained on the premises and sat in the kitchen while the agents conducted the search.
At some point early in the search, Michael needed to use the bathroom. A male agent escorted Michael to the bathroom and conducted a quick search of the bathroom for weapons before exiting and closing the door behind him. The agent stood outside the closed bathroom door while Michael relieved himself.
Approximately thirty minutes later, Shelly told the agents that she needed to use the bathroom. Agent Jean Noll escorted Shelly to the bathroom, and when Shelly stepped inside and started to close the door, Agent Noll told Shelly that she had to come inside too. Agent Noll then told Shelly to remove her clothing so that she could make sure Shelly did not have anything hidden on her person. When Shelly objected, Agent Noll stated that she needed to make sure Shelly could not hide or destroy anything and that this was standard procedure. Shelly, who was wearing a long sundress, pulled up her dress so Agent Noll could see that she was not hiding anything. Afterward, Agent Noll made Shelly hold up her dress while she relieved herself, using one hand to hold up her dress and the other to pull her underwear down. Agent Noll faced Shelly while she used the bathroom, and when Shelly finished, Agent Noll escorted her back to the kitchen.
Shelly Ioane sued Agent Noll for violating her Fourth Amendment right to bodily privacy for monitoring Shelly while she used the restroom. After the district court denied Agent Noll qualified immunity, Agent Noll appealed.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the district court that Agent Noll was not entitled to qualified immunity.
As an initial matter, the court recognized that under the Fourth Amendment individuals have the right to bodily privacy. Next, the court found that the scope of Agent Noll’s intrusion into Shelly’s bodily privacy right was significant. Finally, the court held that none of the reasons Agent Noll offered for justifying the intrusion into Shelly’s right to bodily privacy were supported by the facts.
First, the agents did not detain the Ioanes when they arrived to execute the search warrant. Instead, the agents told the Ioanes they were free to leave, but if they left, they would not be allowed back into the house. The court concluded that if Agent Noll legitimately feared that Shelly might destroy evidence in the bathroom, the agents would not have allowed her to leave the residence where she could have destroyed evidence elsewhere.
Second, Agent Noll claimed that monitoring Shelly was necessary to ensure that Shelly did not have anything dangerous concealed in her clothing. However, the court noted that the search warrant authorized only a search of the premises, not the individuals on the premises. In addition, Agent Noll did not argue that she had a reason to believe that Shelly was armed, except for claiming that the agents had found other weapons on the premises. The court added that even if Agent Noll had an objectively reasonable belief that Shelly was armed and dangerous, this belief only would have justified a frisk for weapons, not the intrusion into bodily privacy that occurred here.
Third, Agent Noll claimed that other safety concerns justified her monitoring Shelly while she used the bathroom, namely, that Shelly could have gained access to the rest of the house through a second door in the bathroom, putting the other agents or herself at risk. The court was not convinced as by the time Shelly needed to use the bathroom another agent had already checked the bathroom for weapons. In addition, Agent Noll offered no explanation as to why watching Shelly use the bathroom was the only way to eliminate the risk that Shelly might flee given that other agents could have been directed to stand outside the bathroom’s second door. Finally, the court commented that Michael, who was the subject of the investigation, had already been permitted to use the bathroom while a male agent stood outside the door.
The court further held that at the time of Agent Noll’s actions in June 2006 an individual’s right to bodily privacy had been clearly established; therefore, Agent Noll was not entitled to qualified immunity.
Glasscox v. Argo, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 25839 (11th Cir. AL September 12, 2018)
Bob Glasscox was driving his pickup truck on an interstate highway when he experienced an episode of diabetic shock. Physically unable to control his truck, Glasscox began driving erratically at high speeds. After other motorists reported Glasscox’s driving, the Argo Police Department dispatched Officer Moses to the scene.
Officer Moses activated his emergency lights and siren and pursued Glasscox for approximately five miles. During this time, Glasscox was traveling 80 miles per hour in a 70 mile per hour speed zone, and was weaving from the left lane onto the median, narrowly missing several road signs and a guard rail. Eventually, Glasscox stopped and Officer Moses approached his pickup truck with his taser drawn. While yelling at Glasscox to get out of the truck, Officer Moses deployed his taser four times in rapid succession. The incident was captured on Officer Moses’ body camera, which recorded Glasscox’s attempts, between taser shocks, to comply with Officer Moses’ orders.
Glasscox sued Officer Moses and the Argo Police Department under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive use of force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. After the district court denied qualified immunity, Officer Moses appealed.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the district court and held that Officer Moses was not entitled to qualified immunity. Even assuming that Officer Moses reasonably deployed his taser twice, the court held that a reasonable jury could conclude that the continued tasing, when the video conclusively showed that Glasscox was not resisting, but instead was voicing his desire to comply with the officer’s commands, violated Glasscox’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from the excessive use of force.
In reaching this conclusion, the court applied the factors outlined in Graham v. Connor to the facts of the case. The court noted that the severity of the crime in question favored Officer Moses as Glasscox’s reckless, dangerous, and elusive driving justified Officer Moses’ initial use of force to arrest Glasscox. However, the court found that the repeated taser shocks, issued after Glasscox stopped driving recklessly, were unreasonable because Glasscox was not resisting arrest after the second taser shock and he no longer posed a threat which justified the repeated use of the taser.
The court further held that at the time of the incident it was clearly established that it is unlawful to use a taser repeatedly on an arrestee who is not resisting, even if that arrestee had previously offered resistance and was not yet restrained.