Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Fourth Amendment and "Frantic" Movements

We are one published decision behind. Here it is:
United States v. Hood (Judge Phillips, with Judges Matheson and Moritz)
Because it has two parts (a Fourth Amendment issue and a sentencing issue), we will break it down in two separate posts. Today, the Fourth Amendment issue.
It goes like this. Oklahoma City was hit by a string of burglaries in the spring of 2012. The investigation led to Randy Milton and to his apartment complex in a high crime area in the city. Officers knocked on the apartment door, but no one answered (despite noise from within). Officers then went to inspect a vehicle identified by other apartment residents as Milton's vehicle. The car was stolen. Then a resident of the apartment complex yelled to officers that an individual had just run out of Milton's apartment. Officers gave chase and encountered our defendant, Michael Jay Hood, "facing a corner of the building with his back toward" the officers. Hood wore a winter jacket on this "unseasonably warm day." And officers testified that he was making "frantic" motions as though he was trying to remove something from his inside jacket pocket. Thinking it a firearm, an officer ordered Hood to the ground at gunpoint. Hood complied, but still appeared to be "lying atop something with his hands underneath him." When asked if he had a gun, Hood replied, "I don't know." So officers handcuffed and frisked him and found a gun in his jacket pocket. The district court found the officers' actions reasonable.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed. The issue on appeal centered on the manner of the seizure: at gunpoint and handcuffed. The Court rejected any argument that these actions turned the seizure into an arrest (we think; it is not entirely clear; the Court could have held that the evidence supported an arrest because it amounted to probable cause of something or another. The Court never uses the phrase "reasonable suspicion" or "probable cause," leaving us unsure as to what exactly this case is about). The fulcrum of the Court's analysis is its conclusion that the officers' actions were justified in light of the facts known to them at the time (high-crime area, defendant running from suspected crime house, wearing a winter jacket, "frantic" movements).
Despite the lack of clarity with the decision itself, there is nothing at all surprising about the outcome, especially with the officers' testimony that the defendant made "frantic" movements as if he was trying to remove something from his pocket. Courts routinely affirm in these types of cases (and it never seems to matter that the defendant was not the person initially suspected of wrongdoing).

Briefly, the defendant tried to argue that the government waived any argument that the use of a firearm and handcuffs was reasonable because not raised below, but the Court dismissed the argument because the government asserted below that the seizure was a proper Terry stop (and, hence, that the manner of it was constitutional).
And a Rule 404(b) issue pops up in the decision as well. Hood asserted that the reason why the officers were at the apartment complex (to investigate a string of burglaries) should have been excluded at trial, but the Court disagreed, calling this evidence "intrinsic" and necessary to "contextualize" the officers' testimony. The Court also rejected a Rule 403 prejudice argument based on its determination that the probative value of this evidence outweighed any prejudice. The analysis is perfunctory, much like it was in the decision we discussed yesterday. Yet again, for reasons we do not know, the Court published the decision anyway.

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