By Sophia Blair

On March 30, 2017, the Fourth Circuit issued a published criminal opinion, United States v. Hill. Donald Hill (“Hill”) pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). However, he appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress his statements and a firearm seized during a traffic stop because he alleged that the police officers’ actions exceeded the scope of the stop. Specifically, he alleged that the stop continued beyond the justifiable amount of time needed, thereby violating his Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Hill’s motion to suppress because the stop’s duration was reasonable to complete the tasks incident to the stop.

Facts of the Stop

On October 20, 2014, two police officers patrolling in Richmond, pulled over a car because it was driving over the speed limit and crossed a double-yellow line. The officers recognized both Jeremy Taylor (“Taylor”), the driver, and Hill, the passenger from previous interactions. After Taylor produced his driver’s license, one of the officers returned to the police cruiser to confirm the identity of both men in the Department of Motor Vehicles database, and to check whether either of the men had outstanding warrants on the National Crime Information Center database. The officer discovered that Taylor’s license was suspended. The officer briefly interrupted writing the relevant summons to check for both men in the PISTOL system, which tracks individuals’ prior contacts with the police. There he found that both men were connected with drug activity and were “likely armed.” The officer in the patrol car called for a K-9 unit and continued writing the summons.

The second officer made small talk with both men while the first officer wrote the summons and asked them three times whether they had drugs or firearms in the car. After the third question, Hill admitted that he had a firearm on his person. The officer shouted “gun” and the K-9 unit arrived on the scene almost simultaneously. The district court determined that twenty minutes elapsed between the initiation of the stop and the time the gun was discovered.

Hill’s Claims

Hill argued that the length of the stop exceeded a lawful duration because the second officer talked to him and Taylor instead of helping the first officer search the databases. He also challenged the call to the K-9 unit and searching the PISTOL database. Hill argued that the cumulative effect was to deprive him of his Fourth Amendment Rights under Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015).

The Duration and Scope of the Stop Did Not Violate the Fourth Amendment

In order to be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a traffic stop must be legitimate at its inception and the officers’ actions during the stop must be reasonably related in scope to the basis for the stop. Because Hill did not contest that the stop was legitimate at its inception, the Fourth Circuit limited its analysis to whether the officers’ actions were reasonably within the scope of the basis for the stop.

Determining the reasonable length of a stop is not a mathematical endeavor; instead a court determines reasonableness by looking at what police in fact do and whether the officers acted reasonably under the totality of the circumstances. Additionally, officers may undertake investigative techniques unrelated to the underlying traffic infraction without offending the Fourth Amendment as long as the activity does not prolong the duration of the stop.

In analyzing the unfolding of the stop at issue, the Fourth Circuit did not observe any evidence that suggested that either of the officers delayed the completion of the traffic stop. The officers accounted for eighteen minutes of the twenty minute stop, and the Fourth Circuit did not find that the additional two minutes unlawfully extended the duration of the stop. Moreover, the first officer had not finished writing the summons when the second officer yelled “gun.”

The Fourth Circuit also held that the officer’s decision to search PISTOL did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the Fourth Amendment does not require the officers to use the least intrusive means possible to complete a stop. Searching PISTOL was material to the officers insuring their safety in furtherance of their duties. Because of the inherent safety risks  during a traffic stop, the Fourth Circuit also held that the second officer’s choice to stand by the stopped vehicle instead of helping to search the database was reasonable. Finally, requesting the K-9 unit did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the call did not extend the duration of the stop.


Because the officers exercised reasonable diligence in executing the traffic stop, the stop was not impermissibly prolonged. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Hill’s motion to suppress evidence.


By Eric Jones

On June 16, 2015, the Fourth Circuit issued a published opinion in the civil removal case Yanez-Marquez v. Lynch.  Maria Yanez-Marquez (Yanez) was petitioning to the Fourth Circuit for review of a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decision dismissing her appeal from an order for her removal from the United States.  The Circuit Court held that the violations of Yanez’s Fourth Amendment rights were not egregious, and thus denied her petition for review.


The Execution of the Search Warrant

In June of 2008, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were granted a search warrant for 402 Harbor Drive, Annapolis, Maryland, because it was suspected that the landlord was harboring illegal aliens.  The warrant was to be executed between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., and described the residence as a “single-family home.”  The warrant was broad and authorized agents to seize “illegal aliens, travel documents, financial records, and photographs of harbored aliens.”  At approximately 5:00 a.m. on June 30, ICE agents knocked on the door of the residence and entered to begin the search.  According to Yanez, the agents burst into the bedroom where she and her partner were sleeping, and pointed guns at them while demanding that they “don’t move” in both English and Spanish.  Upon being informed that Yanez was pregnant, the agents called a female agent to assist and reassure her.  Yanez was never handcuffed or led outside of the dwelling, but was questioned for 5-10 minutes about her identity.  As a result of the search, the agents arrested Yanez’s partner, and had her sign several forms indicating that Yanez had been illegally present in the United States since April of 2007.  The agents also seized Yanez’s pay stubs, tax returns, and photo albums as they left at 9:15 a.m.  The ICE contested Yanez’s statements regarding the timing of the search as well as the force used during the search.


The Removal Proceedings

Yanez was issued a notice to appear before an Immigration Judge (IJ) for removal proceedings.  On February 10, 2010, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) filed a submission of intended evidence, including the forms Yanez signed during the search, the warrant itself, and the affidavit supporting the warrant.  Yanez filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that during the search, the agents “egregiously violated” her Fourth Amendment rights.  The IJ found that, accepting Yanez’s claims as true, her rights had not been “egregiously violated.”  Although the execution of a search warrant prior to the time it was granted would constitute a violation of Yanez’s Fourth Amendment rights, the IJ reasoned that being early by a single hour “does not amount to conduct that ‘shocks the conscience,’” and thus was not an egregious violation.  As to the force used, the IJ found that Yanez had made no showing of excessive force, noting that agents executing a search warrant are reasonably cautious about dangerous situations.  The IJ found that the agents had acted reasonably, had not brandished their guns for longer than necessary to assure their safety, and had gotten a female agent to aid and comfort Yanez as soon as was reasonable.  For these reasons, the IJ denied the motion to suppress the evidence.  On December 13, 2010, the IJ found that the DHS had satisfied their burden, and ordered that Yanez be removed from the United States and returned to El Salvador.

On appeal to the BIA, the BIA held that the exclusionary rule, which operates to exclude evidence obtained in violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, does not apply in civil removal proceedings unless the violations were egregious.  The BIA then, relying on the reasoning of the IJ, held that the violations had not been egregious, and thus affirmed the IJ’s order.


The Applicability of the Fourth Amendment in Civil Removal Cases in the Fourth Circuit

Initially, the Fourth Circuit noted that the question of the applicability of the Fourth Amendment exclusionary principle was a matter of first impression for the Circuit.  The Court began by analyzing the Supreme Court of the United States’ ruling in INS v. Lopez-Mendoza, 468 U.S. 1032 (1984).  In Lopez-Mendoza, the Supreme Court held that the ordinary Fourth Amendment exclusion, which barred all evidence obtained through any violation of the Fourth Amendment, was inapplicable to civil removal proceedings because the costs of exclusionary principle, including dramatically increased complexity to the streamlined process of removal, outweighed the benefits of the exclusionary principle.  Additionally, because civil removal proceedings are not criminal and do not punish but merely prevent continued illegal activity, the Court reasoned that the Fourth Amendment protections were not as critical.  Four Justices in Lopez-Mendoza vigorously dissented, and the majority opinion opined in dicta that “egregious violations” and “widespread” violations by officers may nevertheless render the exclusionary principle applicable in some instances.

In this case, the Fourth Circuit held that the exclusionary principle must apply to all egregious violations of the Fourth Amendment because “[t]o hold otherwise would give no effect to the language used by the Supreme Court in Lopez–Mendoza expressing concern over fundamentally unfair methods of obtaining evidence.”  The Circuit Court further held that refusing to apply the exclusion “would ignore the fact that eight justices in Lopez–Mendoza seem to have agreed that the exclusionary rule applies in removal proceedings in some form.”  Thus, in the Fourth Circuit, an petitioner in a civil removal case must show not only that her Fourth Amendment rights were violated, but also that those violations were “egregious.”


The Standard for “Egregiousness” of a Fourth Amendment Violation

The Lopez-Mendoza Court stated “egregious violations of Fourth Amendment or other liberties that might transgress notions of fundamental fairness and undermine the probative value of the evidence obtained” might be reason to apply the exclusion. Despite the use of “and” by the Supreme Court, the Fourth Circuit held that a petitioner can succeed if she can show either (1) egregious violation or (2) a violation that undermines the probative value of the evidence.  To hold otherwise, the Circuit explained, would dramatically reduce the application of the rule because nearly all evidence obtained through egregious violations is physical evidence, which has the same probative value regardless of the manner of acquisition.  Examples given by the Circuit of egregious violations included “a stop based on Hispanic appearance alone,” “repeatedly ignor[ing a] detainee’s request for counsel,” and “a nighttime warrantless entry into the aliens’ residence.”

The Fourth Circuit rejected the Ninth Circuit’s standard for egregiousness, which focuses on the “bad faith” of the agents, and embraced the “totality of the circumstances” test used by the Second, Third, and Eighth Circuits.


Yanez’s Alleged Fourth Amendment Violations

Yanez’s first allegation of egregious violation of her Fourth Amendment rights was that the warrant listed her residence as a “single-family home,” when it was in fact a multi-unit dwelling.  The Fourth Circuit explained that the warrant is sufficiently tailored when an agent executing it can “reasonably ascertain and identify the intended place to be searched.”  In holding that the warrant used to search Yanez’s home was adequate, the Circuit emphasized that the premises had been under ICE surveillance and agents had no reason to believe multiple families dwelled there, it was a small single-story home, and the premises had just one mailbox.  Thus, because the outward appearance is reasonably identified by a description of a “single-family home,” the Fourth Circuit rejected Yanez’s first argument.

Yanez next argued that, upon entry, the agents should have known it was a multi-family dwelling because “the bedroom door was locked,” which transforms it into a separate dwelling.  However, because it is not unusual for a bedroom door to be locked and there was no other indication in the home that it was a multi-unit dwelling, the Circuit held that the ICE agents had not made any mistake in proceeding with the warrant, and even if they had, it was an innocent and reasonable mistake.

Yanez’s final argument was that entering the home at 5:00 a.m. constituted a “nighttime search,” which fell outside of the warrant and implicates higher scrutiny because of the heightened intrusion.  The Fourth Circuit agreed that because a daytime search is defined as between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., the search of Yanez’s residence was by definition a nighttime search.  The Fourth Circuit went on to hold that nighttime execution of a daytime warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, absent consent or exigent circumstances.  Thus, because there was no consent given by either Yanez or the judge who issued the warrant, nor were there any additional facts which may have constituted exigent circumstances justifying a nighttime search, the Fourth Circuit held that the ICE had violated Yanez’s Fourth Amendment rights by executing the search.  However, when considering the totality of the circumstances, the Circuit held that this violation was not egregious.

Facts to support a finding of egregiousness included the fact that it was a nighttime search and the fact that the search was of Yanez’s home, where her privacy interests are strong.  Supporting the non-egregiousness of the search included the fact that no ICE agents threatened, coerced, or physically abused Yanez, nor did they offer or promise her anything in exchange for cooperation.  Additionally, Yanez was not handcuffed, nor was she removed from the home.  Furthermore, there was no evidence of diminished capacity, the questioning was not particularly lengthy, and there is no evidence that the agents were motivated by racial considerations.  Finally, the Circuit explained that presence of a valid search warrant for the premises reduces the harm of the intrusion, and the agents executing the warrant did not use force beyond that necessary to secure their safety.  The Fourth Circuit thus held that the nighttime search, while a violation, was nevertheless not an egregious violation of Yanez’s Fourth Amendment Rights.


The Fourth Circuit Denied Yanez’s Petition for Review

Because the alleged violations of Yanez’s Fourth Amendment rights were all either not violations at all or not egregious, the Fourth Circuit denied Yanez’s petition for review of the IJ’s order for her removal from the United States.

By: Michael Klotz

Today, in the unpublished opinion of Unites States v. Skyler Jovelle Holley, the Fourth Circuit reversed the decision of Senior District Judge W. Earl Britt of the District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The court held that the district court erred in failing to consider conduct by the Defendant between the time that the police officer turned on his siren and when the Defendant was actually stopped in assessing “reasonable suspicion” under the Fourth Amendment.


Deputy John McArthur, who was on duty in Edenton, North Carolina, received a call from a confidential informant to be on the lookout for Mr. Holley, who had just pulled a gun on someone near the Crown Mart on Oakum Street and driven away in a white Cadillac. Deputy McArthur did not know Mr. Holley, but he had previously seen his headshot and knew that he was a black man. Shortly after receiving this call, Deputy McArthur saw a white Cadillac with two black male passengers on the other side of town. Deputy McArthur judged that enough time had passed that this could be the same vehicle referenced by the informant. Deputy McArthur turned on his lights and attempted to stop the vehicle. The driver of the white Cadillac, who was leaned back in his seat, did not pull over, but instead made a right turn and drove slowly and erratically. The vehicle eventually pulled into a driveway and stopped. When Duty McArthur searched the vehicle he discovered that Mr. Holley was one of the occupants. Mr. Holley had a .38 caliber pistol in his pocket, and another .38 caliber gun was discovered on the floor of the vehicle. Mr. Holley was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and 924.

District Court Grants Defendant’s Motion To Suppress

Mr. Holley filed a motion to the suppress the evidence discovered at the scene, including the guns, on the theory that Deputy McArthur did not have “reasonable suspicion” to stop his vehicle merely on the basis of a tip to be on the lookout for a black male driving a white Cadillac. Reasonable suspicion by a police officer is necessary to justify a stop under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The district court granted Defendant’s Motion to Suppress, holding that there was no “reasonable, articulable” grounds for the officer to believe that the vehicle stopped was the same vehicle referenced by the confidential informant. The court noted that Deputy McArthur did not recognize the driver as being Mr. Holley, and the fact that the driver was slumped in his seat—along with the fact that it was a white Cadillac with black occupants—was insufficient to justify the stop. The district court noted that Cadillacs are common in the black community in rural eastern North Carolina, and thus the vehicle stopped might have been uninvolved in the alleged incident. In rendering its decision, the district court did not consider Mr. Holley’s conduct between the time that Deputy McArthur initiated his siren and when the vehicle eventually pulled over. The government filed a motion for an evidentiary hearing or to reconsider the motion to suppress on the existing record, which was denied. The government timely appealed.

The Fourth Circuit Reverses Based Upon The “Totality Of The Circumstances”

The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court, denying the Defendant’s Motion to Suppress, and finding that based upon the “totality of the circumstances” Deputy McArthur did have reasonable suspicion to stop the suspect vehicle. The district court failed to consider the conduct by the Defendant while he was being followed by the police officer. However, under clear Fourth Circuit precedent a seizure requires either 1. the application of physical force; or 2. both an assertion of authority and submission or acquiescence to that show of authority. In this case, the second form of seizure is at issue. There was an “assertion of authority” by Deputy McArthur when he turned on his police siren. However, the Defendant did not acquiesce to this “show of authority” until the vehicle actually stopped. Thus, the district court erred as a matter of law in failing to consider the Defendant’s conduct between the time that the police siren was turned on and when the vehicle came to a halt. During this time, the Defendant failed to pull over and exhibited an “unusual driving pattern.” The Fourth Circuit concluded that this conduct, considered in light of the fact that the vehicle was a white Cadillac with black occupants as referenced by the informant, was sufficient to create “reasonable suspicion” to justify a Fourth Amendment seizure. Thus, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court erred in granting Defendant’s Motion to Suppress, and the decision was reversed and remanded.



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.