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U.S. v. SLOCUMB, NO. 14-4733

Decided: October 22, 2015  

The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of defendant’s motion to suppress, vacated the defendant’s conviction and sentence, and remanded for further proceedings after determining the Culpeper, Virginia, Police Department lacked reasonable suspicion to detain the defendant.

The Culpeper Police department executed a search warrant on a house that was suspected for drug activity. The police used the parking lot of Culpeper Salvage, located across the street, as a staging area for the search. When the officers arrived, they found Slocumb, his girlfriend, Lewis, and an infant in the parking lot transferring a child seat from one car to the other. The officers observed Slocumb hurrying Lewis along, and Slocumb told an officer that one of the cars had broken down. The officers informed Slocumb and Lewis to not leave and had an officer wait with them as the other officers executed the warrant.

At some point, the officer waiting with Slocumb and Lewis asked Slocumb for identification. Slocumb cooperated and gave the officer the name “Anthony Francis.” Further, Slocumb declined to give the officer consent to search him and answered inconsistently to several questions. When Lewis was asked what Slocumb’s name was, she responded that his name was “Hakeem,” which officers recognized as someone who was under investigation for drug trafficking. Slocumb was promptly arrested for providing a false name, and officers found approximately $6,000 on his person. When asked by officers, Lewis gave permission for the search of one of the vehicles. The officers found methamphetamine, cocaine powder, cocaine base, and marijuana in the car. At that moment, Slocumb claimed ownership of the drugs. A subsequently obtained search warrant for Slocumb’s residence uncovered more drugs and paraphernalia.  

Slocumb made a motion to suppress the physical evidence seized and the statements made. The district court denied the motion, finding that his initial detention was supported by reasonable suspicion, and the officers had probable cause to arrest him. Additionally, the district court found Lewis had authority to consent to the search of the vehicle. Slocumb appealed.

In review of Slocumb’s seizure, the court looks at the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the officer had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The district court determined that factors such as the high-crime area, the lateness of the hour, the fact that the business had been closed for many hours, and Slocumb’s individual behavior are permissible factors that can contribute to a finding of reasonable suspicion. However, the Fourth Circuit determined that these factors were insufficient to support reasonable suspicion. When a defendant does not try to flee or leave the area, we have found reasonable suspicion on a showing of more “extreme” or unusual nervousness or acts of evasion. It is important to not overplay a suspect’s nervous behavior in situations where citizens would normally be expected to be upset. Here, Slocumb’s behavior was normal considering the situation, and his behavior did not give rise to reasonable suspicion. Therefore, the district court erred in denying Slocumb’s motion to suppress.

Full Opinion

Austin T. Reed