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United States v. Bumpers, No. 11-4689

Decided:  January 16, 2013

Defendant Irvin Bumpers appealed the district court’s denial of his pre-trial motion to suppress the firearm that served as the basis of his conviction of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).  Bumpers argued that the firearm and ammunition were taken as a result of an unlawful seizure.  The Fourth Circuit dismissed Bumpers’ argument and upheld the district court judge’s ruling, finding that the police officer’s retrieval of these goods was the result of a lawful stop and arrest.  The court further articulated its belief that appellate courts should “uphold[] a district court’s Terry ruling when it is objectively reasonable in light of the record … [in order to] best achieve in the aggregate the very equipoise between individual liberty and public safety that the Fourth Amendment commands.”

The facts revealed that Bumpers was arrested in a high crime area when a police officer, who was patrolling the area, noticed Bumpers acting suspiciously and suspected that Bumpers and a companion were trespassing upon property.  After the officer stopped Bumpers to question him, the officer’s search of computer records revealed an outstanding warrant for Bumpers.  Consequently, the officer arrested Bumpers and conducted a search incident to this arrest which revealed that Bumpers was carrying the firearm and ammunition at issue on appeal.

In its analysis of this case, the majority focused on numerous factors surrounding the officer’s arrest of Bumpers.  After stating that “[t]he touchstone of the Fourth Amendment inquiry is one of simple reasonableness” and citing to the Supreme Court’s decision regarding police investigatory stops in Terry v. Ohio, the court concluded that in cases involving police stops an individual’s “liberty interest” must be balanced with the “weighty interest on the other side of the balance:  the community’s interest in basic public safety.”  The court then defended its decision to defer to the trial judge’s factual findings and inferences regarding the circumstances surrounding Bumpers’ arrest, stating that “[t]e most precise instrument that the judiciary possesses for ensuring the proper balance between the interests that undergird the Fourth Amendment is the on-the-ground assessment of district courts.”  Ultimately, the court was convinced that the trial judge rightfully considered the totality of the factors surrounding the officer’s stop and concluded that the district court correctly determined that the officer had the reasonable suspicion necessary to conduct the stop in question.  Therefore, the court upheld the district court’s denial of Bumpers’ motion to suppress.

Full Opinion

– Allison Hite