Week Thirteen

Week of March 27, 2017 through March 31, 2017

LVNV Funding, LLC v. Derrick Harling (Agee 3/30/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that entry of a bankruptcy court’s Chapter 13 plan confirmation orders that treat unsecured creditors as a single class does not preclude a bankruptcy court’s later determination of contested unsecured claims under 11 U.S.C. § 502. The court affirmed the orders of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of South Carolina, which disallowed Appellant’s claims as an unsecured creditor in two proceedings under Chapter 13 of the United States Bankruptcy Code. Full Opinion

US v. Donald Hill (Keenan 3/30/2017): The Fourth Circuit extended the Supreme Court’s decision in Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015) relating to traffic stops by law enforcement, finding that “[w]hile diligently pursuing the purpose of a traffic stop, officers also may engage in other investigative techniques unrelated to the underlying traffic infraction or the safety of the officers . . . as long as that activity does not prolong the roadside detention for the traffic infraction.” The court affirmed the district court’s order denying Defendant’s suppression motion, with Judge Davis dissenting. Full Opinion

 

Highlight Case

US v. Donald Hill (Keenan 3/30/2017)

Decided: March 30, 2017

The Fourth Circuit extended the Supreme Court’s decision in Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015) relating to traffic stops by law enforcement, finding that “[w]hile diligently pursuing the purpose of a traffic stop, officers also may engage in other investigative techniques unrelated to the underlying traffic infraction or the safety of the officers . . . as long as that activity does not prolong the roadside detention for the traffic infraction.” The court affirmed the District Court’s order denying Defendant’s suppression motion, with Judge Davis dissenting.

Defendant Donald Hill was a passenger in a car that was pulled over by the police after the driver committed traffic violations. The driver produced his identification, but Defendant was unable to produce his identification. Officer Taylor used the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer databases and received an alert that the two individuals were associated with drug trafficking and were likely armed. Additionally, Officer Taylor discovered that the driver had a suspended license. Officer Taylor then began writing a summons for the driver and requested a K-9 unit. Furthermore, Officer Taylor placed the names of the driver and Defendant into PISTOL, a local police database.

While Officer Taylor was searching the databases and writing the summons, Officer McClendon stood beside the car and engaged in “small talk.” Officer McClendon asked if they had drugs or guns in the car and, on his third inquiry, Defendant stated that he had a gun. Officer McClendon shouted “gun” and, in response, Officer Taylor returned to the car to secure Defendant and recover the firearm. Meanwhile, the K-9 unit arrived but the dog did not get out of the car until after Officer McClendon shouted “gun.” The entire incident lasted twenty minutes. Defendant was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, which violated 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). He filed a motion to suppress both the firearm and the statements he made during the traffic stop, arguing that the police officers exceeded the scope of a lawful traffic stop. The district court denied his motion to suppress. Afterwards, Defendant entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion. Defendant subsequently appealed to the Fourth Circuit.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment and held that the court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress. Specifically, the court concluded that the stop did not violate the Fourth Amendment “because the officers acted with reasonable diligence in executing the tasks incident to the traffic stop, and the stop was not impermissibly expanded in scope or time beyond the pursuit of the stop’s mission.” Specifically, the court reasoned that the twenty-minute stop was not unlawful, even though there were brief periods of time unaccounted for, because the officers did not prolong the stop for reasons beyond its scope and because the officers were reasonably diligent. The court concluded that the officers were justified in using the PISTOL database to determine the individuals’ prior contact with law enforcement because officers are not required to take the least restrictive means conceivable in effectuating a traffic stop and because officers can take such measures to ensure their safety. Additionally, the court found that it was not unreasonable, given the risks inherent in traffic stops, for police officers to allocate their duties during a traffic stop so that one officer remains in immediate proximity of the vehicle’s occupants at all times. Furthermore, the court found that the officers’ decision to engage in small talk and request a K-9 unit did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the record showed that these activities did not prolong the stop.

Judge Davis dissented, arguing that Defendant’s motion to suppress should be granted because the police officers unreasonably prolonged the stop by seeking to confirm Defendant’s identity. Specifically, Judge Davis reasoned that a passenger in a vehicle, who had not violated any law, had no obligation to identify himself in a routine traffic stop. Furthermore, Judge Davis stated that the “sole mission” of the traffic stop was to identify the driver and issue any appropriate warnings or violation notices. Consequently, he concluded that the officers impermissibly extended the scope of the traffic stop and transformed it into a narcotics and firearms investigation undertaken in the absence of reasonable suspicion.

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed and held that the district court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress, with Judge Davis dissenting.

Full Opinion

Eugene Gordon Hay

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