by David Darr

On Friday, in United States v. Walker, an unpublished per curium opinion, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision of the District of Maryland to deny the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence. The court held that police had a reasonable suspicion to both arrest and search the defendant.

Was Arrest and Search Proper?

The issue in this case was whether the police had a reasonable suspicion to arrest the defendant and a reasonable fear for the officer’s own and others’ safety to search the defendant.

Walker’s Arrest and Search

Early in the morning on January 30, 2011, the police received a call from a 911 dispatcher that a man with a gun was at a Denny’s in Baltimore. An officer who was already in the area responded to the call and upon exiting his vehicle he encountered two men pointing to the defendant, Stephan Sylvester Walker, Jr., and telling the officer that Walker is “the guy with the gun.” The officer ordered Walker to get down on the ground and drew his service weapon, but Walker attempted to hide behind a car. As other officers arrived on the scene, Walker acquiesced and the police found a .45 caliber pistol in Walker’s waistband.

At trial, Walker moved to suppress, arguing that both his arrest and seizure of property were improper. The district court denied this motion, finding both the initial stop and taking of the gun were legal. Subsequently, a jury found Walker guilty of possessing a firearm and ammunition after having been convicted of a felony and he was sentenced to 293 months in prison. Walker appealed the denial of his motion to suppress because he claimed the officers lacked a reasonable suspicion.

Legal Requirements for Arrest and Search

When a motion to suppress is denied, the appellate court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government. The Fourth Amendment allows a police officer to stop a person when the officer has a reasonable suspicion based on the facts that criminal activity may be afoot. A reasonable suspicion depends on the totality of the circumstances, including any reasonable inferences. Additionally, an officer may also search a suspect’s person if the officer has a reasonable fear for his own or others’ safety based on a suspicion that the suspect may be armed and dangerous.

The Officer Had a Reasonable Suspicion

The Fourth Circuit, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, found that the officer had more than enough evidence to arrest and search Walker. The circumstances surrounding the stop of Walker would create a reasonable suspicion that Walker had a gun. While an anonymous tip alone might not be enough for an officer to stop someone, the 911 call, the witnesses claiming Walker had a gun, and Walker’s evasive behavior all show there was a reasonable suspicion for the stop. Additionally, the totality of the circumstances also show that Walker was armed and potentially dangerous, creating a reasonable fear in the officers to justify the search of Walker’s person.

Fourth Circuit Affirms Decision

For the reasons stated above, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision of the District of Maryland.