A Moonshine Bust in 1958 Gets a SCOTUS Smackdown – Yet, as of 2020, some in WV haven’t gotten the memo…

NOTE: A landlord cannot give you permission to search his tenant’s home for illegal stuff. Write that on the chalkboard, and repeat 100 times . . . .

In the 1961 U.S. Supreme Court case of Chapman v. United States, the Court was presented with the following scenario:

In 1958, acting without a search warrant, but with the consent of the suspect’s landlord, police officers entered the suspect’s home through an unlocked window, and searched the rental house. There they found an “unregistered distillery” and 1,300 gallons of “mash.”  Shortly afterwards, the suspect was indicted for violation of federal liquor laws.

A guy named Bridgaman owned a rental house in a wooded area, near Macon, Georgia. Since the house had been rented to a new tenant, on Sunday, February 16, 1958, Mr. Bridgaman went to the rental house, for the purpose of inviting his new tenants to attend church with him.  Upon arrival, he noted a strong “odor of mash” around the house. There was no response to his knock. He tried to look in the windows, but couldn’t see anything.

Being a good Christian, Mr. Bridgaman contacted two local police officers, who dutifully reported to his home. Together, the three went to Mr. Bridgaman’s rental house, where all three of them agreed that there was a strong “odor of mash.” They knocked on the door; but no response. They tried to look into the windows; but they couldn’t see anything. They checked to see if the windows were locked. They were all locked, except for one – the bathroom window.

According to the officers’ sworn testimony, the landlord, Mr. Bridgaman, gave them permission to climb in the window and see if the tenants were doing what he suspected they were doing, given the strong smell of moonshine in the making. So the officers climbed in the bathroom window.

After entering the home, one of the officers found 1,300 gallons of mash in the living room, and other than the mash, the rest of the house was empty – aside from the distillery and distilling accessories.

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The officer who found the moonshine operation, yelled out to the other about what he had found, and told him “to go get some help.” The other officer then left, taking the landlord home, and called the federal police to come to the scene.

However, before the feds could get there, the tenant arrived home.  He unlocked the door, walked inside, and was suddenly confronted by the police officer, still inside the house, who handcuffed him and arrested him.

When the other officers arrived at the scene, they saved samples of the mash, took pictures of the crime scene, inside the house, and then destroyed the moonshine still and destroyed the shine. There had never been a search warrant of any kind. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Surprisingly, despite not having a search warrant, the government’s argument justifying their warrantless search, was that it was a rental property, and that the landlord, on a social call, noticed that the premises was being used for criminal purposes, and since he had the legal right to enter the premises as the landlord, “he should be able to exercise that right through law enforcement officers to whom he has delegated his authority.”

The SCOTUS immediately pointed out three problems with that argument: 1) the officer forced open a window to gain entry to the premises; 2) their purpose in entering was to search for distilling equipment, not to evaluate the status of the landlord’s property; and 3) if the SCOTUS were to allow such an intrusion, without a warrant, “would reduce the Fourth Amendment to a nullity and leave tenants’ homes secure only in the discretion of landlords.”

Gee . . . . Sounds familiar.

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Therefore, the Supreme Court of the United States found that the search was illegal, and thus began an extended progeny of federal cases, all based on the 1961 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Chapman v. U.S., written by Justice Charles E.Whittaker, who was appointed by President Eisenhower in 1957.

Chapman v. United States, 365 U.S. 610, 81 S.Ct. 776, 5 L.Ed.2d 828 (1961).

And here we are, in 2019-2020, and there are still LEOs in West Virginia, who apparently believed they were entitled to entitled to go search a house for drugs, just by virtue of supposedly asking a landlord if they can enter? Yes, 1961 was a long time ago, but the case has been cited in caselaw 670 times, by my count, since then, including as recently as 2015, here in the Fourth Circuit.

The Fourth Amendment protects “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. The Supreme Court has held that, with few exceptions, warrantless searches are “per se unreasonable” under the Fourth Amendment. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967).

“At the very core of the Fourth Amendment stands the right of a man to retreat into his home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion. With few exceptions, the question whether a warrantless search of a home is reasonable and hence constitutional must be answered no.” Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 31, 121 S.Ct. 2038, 150 L.Ed.2d 94 (2001) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

And the protection of a house extends to apartments, rented rooms within a house, and hotel rooms so that a landlord may not give the police consent to a warrantless search of a rented apartment or room. See Stoner v. California, 376 U.S. 483, 490, 84 S.Ct. 889, 11 L.Ed.2d 856 (1964) (hotel room); Chapman v. United States, 365 U.S. 610, 616-17, 81 S.Ct. 776, 5 L.Ed.2d 828 (1961) (rented house). U.S. v. Stevenson, 396 F.3d 538 (4th Cir. 2005).

The Walker Open Carry Case Turns Into a Fight Over the “AR-15”

UPDATE 2/5/20: Here’s our reply to the defense theory of Anti-AR-15:

Central to the Reply is newly discovered evidence. The defendant police officers argued to the Court that even though there’s no indication of it from the video, they actually weren’t checking to see if Michael Walker was a person prohibited from possessing a firearm, but rather that he was a potential school shooter, because it was “morning,” and a school some undetermined distance down that road was “in session.”

Well, the video was originally broadcasted on Facebook Live. Somebody was able to go back and screenshot it, and as it turns out – oops – it was actually 6:00 p.m…. I guess that explains the crickets around the 2:50 mark on the video.

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So, here’s the response we received from Putnam County in response to our pretrial motion asking the Court to stop the Putnam County deputies from presenting anti-AR-15 propaganda and irrelevant media reports of mass shootings at the jury trial in the Michael Walker Open Carry case.

Here was my last update, wherein I posted our motion to exclude the unrelated matters from trial, if you haven’t been following along.

This response is an outrageous attack on the Second Amendment, which ironically was filed by lawyers for West Virginia’s first so-called “Second Amendment Sanctuary” county – Putnam County.  Yesterday we all appeared at the federal courthouse in Huntington, West Virginia, for the pretrial hearing on various motions, including this one.

It was almost surreal to hear the other side argue to the Court that by virtue of the fact that Michael was safely carrying a completely legal AR-15 style rifle, in a non-threatening manner, that police should be able to search and seize him just because the AR is the “preferred weapon of mass shooters,” and so on.  Citing news media reports about the Parkland shooting.  They actually argued in court, that it would not have been suspicious if he had a shotgun, or a handgun.  It was mentioned that AR-15s aren’t used for hunting in West Virginia.  Which is of course completely false, and besides the point.

This is a reality check for people who value the Second Amendment, as well as the Fourth Amendment.  If you live in the Fourth Circuit: West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, or South Carolina, unless there’s a SCOTUS opinion on point, your constitutional interpretation/law comes from the Fourth Circuit. We’re on the edge….

Right now U.S. v. Black (2013), written by a federal appellate judge who is a staunch defender of the Second Amendment, Judge Gregory, whom I’ve had the honor of arguing in front of, protects citizens who open carry firearms in open carry states.  The police cannot harass you, detain you, search you, seize you, just by virtue of the fact you have a firearm. As we know from the past, that was the original purpose of gun control measures in many of the southern states, such as North Carolina (which is where US v. Black came out of).

Black was narrowed by US v. Robinson in 2017, which said that anyone in a vehicle lawfully stopped for whatever traffic violation, or pre textual reason whatsoever, can be disarmed and searched, because firearm possession automatically makes you dangerous.   Judge Gregory wrote an amazing dissent in that en banc opinion, which specifically mentions this scenario as it pertains to West-by-God-Virginia. However, that wasn’t extended to open carriers who are not already legitimately subjected to a forced encounter with police.  Well, they’re now trying to extend this to open carriers through anti-AR-15 propaganda.

If they succeed, guess what can happen next time thousands of open carriers bring their ARs to the state capitol in peaceful protest and free speech?  It’s game on if law enforcement wants to disarm you, run your background checks, search your pockets, etc. As Judge Gregory warned in the Robinson case dissent:

In my view, states have every right to address these pressing safety concerns with generally applicable and evenhanded laws imposing modest burdens on all citizens who choose to arm themselves in public. For instance, many states—though not West Virginia— seek to reconcile police safety and a right to public carry through “duty to inform” laws, requiring any individual carrying a weapon to so inform the police whenever he or she is stopped,4 or in response to police queries.5 And if a person fails to disclose a suspected weapon to the police as required by state law, then that failure itself may give rise to a reasonable suspicion of dangerousness, justifying a protective frisk.

West Virginia, however, has taken a different approach, permitting concealed carry without the need for disclosure or temporary disarmament during traffic stops. For the reasons described above, I do not believe we may deem inherently “dangerous” any West Virginia citizen stopped for a routine traffic violation, on the sole ground that he is thought to have availed himself fully of those state-law rights to gun possession. Nor, in my view, does the Fourth Amendment allow for a regime in which the safety risks of a policy like West Virginia’s are mitigated by selective and discretionary police spot-checks and frisks of certain legally armed citizens, by way of pretextual stops or otherwise. Cf. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 661, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 59 L.Ed.2d 660 (1979) (invalidating discretionary spot-checks of drivers for licenses and registrations in furtherance of roadway safety). Absent some “specific, articulable suspicion of danger” in a particular case, see United States v. Sakyi, 160 F.3d 164, 168–69 (4th Cir. 1998), West Virginia’s citizens, including its police officers, must trust their state’s considered judgment that the benefits of its approach to public gun possession outweigh the risks. See Northrup, 785 F.3d at 1133.

. . .

That is particularly so given that West Virginia does not require that people carrying firearms inform the police of their guns during traffic or other stops, even if asked. See supra at 50. Where a state has decided that gun owners have a right to carry concealed weapons without so informing the police, gun owners should not be subjected to frisks because they stand on their rights. Cf. Northrup, 785 F.3d at 1132 (“impropriety” of officer’s demand to see permit for gun being brandished in public is “particularly acute” where state has not only legalized open carry of firearms but also “does not require gun owners to produce or even carry their licenses for inquiring officers”). Under a different legal regime, different inferences could be drawn from a failure to answer an officer’s question about a gun. See supra at 50–11. But I do not think we may presume dangerousness from a failure to waive—quickly enough—a state-conferred right to conceal a weapon during a police encounter.

Again, I recognize that expanded rights to openly carry or conceal guns in public will engender genuine safety concerns on the part of police officers, as well as other citizens, who more often will find themselves confronting individuals who may be armed.

But where a sovereign state has made the judgment that its citizens safely may arm themselves in public, I do not believe we may presume that public gun possession gives rise to a reasonable suspicion of dangerousness, no matter what the neighborhood. And because the rest of the circumstances surrounding this otherwise unremarkable traffic stop do not add appreciably to the reasonable suspicion calculus, I must conclude that the police were without authority to frisk Robinson under Terry’s “armed and dangerous” standard.

Accordingly, I dissent.

United States v. Robinson, 846 F.3d 694, 714, 716 (2017).

Don’t forget that Heller, i.e., the Second Amendment, has not yet been extended outside one’s home. It hasn’t been applied to open carry yet, or anywhere outside the home in the Fourth Circuit – nor by SCOTUS. See United States v. Masciandaro, 638 F.3d 458, 475 (4th Cir. 2011), other courts are divided on the question, compare Moore v. Madigan, 702 F.3d 933, 936 (7th Cir. 2012) (recognizing that the “right to keep and bear arms for personal self-defense … implies a right to carry a loaded gun outside the home”); Palmer v. Dist. of Columbia, 59 F.Supp.3d 173, 181–82 (D.D.C. 2014) (holding that Second Amendment right recognized in Heller extends beyond home), with Peruta v. Cnty. of San Diego, 824 F.3d 919, 940 (9th Cir. 2016) (“[T]he Second Amendment does not protect the right of a member of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public.” (emphasis added)); Young v. Hawaii, 911 F.Supp.2d 972, 990 (D. Haw. 2012) (“[L]imitations on carrying weapons in public do[ ] not implicate activity protected by the Second Amendment.”); Williams v. State, 417 Md. 479, 10 A.3d 1167, 1178 (Md. 2011) (holding that regulations on carrying firearms outside the home are “outside of the scope of the Second Amendment, as articulated in Heller and McDonald“).

So, are Montani Semper Liberi, or not? It remains to be seen. Right now, definitely not in Putnam County. And if they get their way, neither here, nor our neighbors in Virginia, and below…..

Update on the Putnam Search Video Case

I’ll be in federal court tomorrow, Monday, February 3, for a pretrial hearing in the other Putnam County case with a video, and will potentially be meeting with additional witnesses afterwards, if there’s time.  If you have information, please let me know.

A few days back I had to trim the video in order to take out the local TV coverage of the task force guys, where they’re walking around the trailer park, banging on doors, etc. They claimed copyright on the footage and threatened to sick their lawyers on me.  So I just took that part down.  But I assume that you can find it on their site if you look for it. At some point, I’m sure it will be evidence of record anyways.

Since the original video was uploaded, the Putnam County Sheriff has ordered an internal investigation. Right now we’re awaiting the results of that investigation, and also proceeding with our own.

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I have personally met with investigators, and have provided them whatever they wanted out of my file.  I also made my client and an eyewitness available to them for questioning.  I also have received yet another video showing them inside an individual’s home, and I have also provided that to the investigators – with the individual’s consent, of course. Numerous other people have contacted us in regards to other situations involving this same group of guys, and I’m still in the process of speaking to them all.

Here are a few more photos which address important aspects of the situation. Here’s where the Putnam County Special Enforcement Unit cut the lock on my client’s gate at the end of driveway, before driving towards the house in a white truck, and what appears to be two black Ford Explorer unmarked police cruisers.

Here’s where the police officers climbed through the window to get inside the house.  They pushed in a window unit air condition. It was actually one of those indoor ACs, but it still requires a window unit for exhaust and drainage. This photos were taken immediately following the search.

Here’s where they yanked the surveillance camera cord. It’s of the type that has two plugs. One of the plugs was pulled out, and the other was ripped in half, leaving the connector still in place.

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How do we know it wasn’t already like that? Remember the part of the video where the guy in the SWAT outfit was walking across the bridge? (5:41 in the video) When he gets to the end of the bridge, it freezes. That’s this actual camera. And the point at which it freezes is when the damage occurs to the camera. I originally thought that camera had survived.  But no, that one was actually severed, and you see the moment it was severed.

Here’s the guy walking across the bridge:

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And here’s the exact moment that camera was disabled:

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As for what their defense is at this point, I don’t know.  But self-proclaimed “Bailiff” of the Putnam Sheriff’s Department did confront me on social media and try to set me straight on the facts, and the law. He implied that the officers entered with the landlord’s consent. The only problem with that is, a landlord cannot authorize law enforcement to search their tenant’s residence. That’s Fourth Amendment 101, which is why a search warrant is still required even to search the hotel room of an overnight guest (minus a ticking time bomb or something) They can’t just ask the hotel manager for permission to search. A warrant is still required. Secondly, the landlord was questioned very early on, and denied knowing anything about it. That may have been a lie.  But if it was, then they can point fingers at each other when it comes time to be placed under oath. But it still won’t be a defense to an illegal search by law enforcement.

As for a criminal investigation, I have no knowledge of any agency investigating them criminally.  That doesn’t mean it’s not happening. But nobody has notified myself, nor my client, of there being one. That’s why I believe it’s important to share this information with the public. In the end, the citizens should be informed of what their government is doing. Or not doing.

WV prison guard stops our client at gunpoint in Doddridge County, WV

Check out this new case. Police officer impersonation incident by a WV Division of Corrections CO / Parole officer. We met with investigators already, who were extremely concerned about what they saw here….

If you have any information, please contact us.

Update on the Walker Case (Fourth Amendment Open Carry Lawsuit)

In case you’re following along with the Walker v. Donahoe, et al. Fourth Amendment open carry civil rights lawsuit, we have a jury trial scheduled for February 19, beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Huntington, West Virginia. As of right now it’s still on.  Both sides have asked the court for summary judgment, which basically means that both sides claim to have the law completely on their side.  The court has not ruled as of yet. Pretrial documents have been submitted, including motions in limine, which are trial issues anticipated by the parties, which are best argued prior to the start of the trial.  If you haven’t seen the video of the incident in dispute, here it is:

The defendants are seeking to exclude portions of this video showing the “investigatory detention” of Michael Walker by the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department.  Not surprisingly, they want the part of the video where the police officer calls Michael a “co*ksucker,” repeatedly, among other things to be kept away from the jury.  Here’s their argument:

Also not surprisingly, we strongly disagree.  Here’s our response.  The judge will decide at some point, and generally has the broad discretion to control the flow of what the jury gets to see, and what they don’t:

We also filed a few motions in limine of our own, including our attempt at stopping the defendants from bringing up the Parkland school shooting, which they have announced is their attention, and which has absolutely nothing to do with the case.  They are also seeking to make the case that because Michael had an AR-15 style rifle, that a reasonable officer could suspect him of being a potential school shooter, or something to that effect.  Which is of course highly offensive, and antithetical to both the Fourth Amendment and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

In case you’re curious about the current status of laws pertaining to the open carrying of firearms in West Virginia, check out the last post I did on it.  It should still be the same. Of course, this case could change that if it doesn’t go our way…..

Update on the Drug Task Force Civil Rights Lawsuit out from Fayette County, W. Va.

Here’s an update on the Fourth Amendment civil rights lawsuit we filed in the Sizemore case, which involved a federal criminal prosecution which was dismissed following a federal judge making a finding that officers in the Central West Virginia Drug Task Force made false statements to a magistrate in order to illegally procure a search warrant. We filed suit to establish civil liability for a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which specifically requires probable cause and a search warrant.

Well, we made it past the defendants’ motions to dismiss, and now we are proceeding to the discovery stage, which is essentially the exchange of information and the questioning of witnesses via depositions. The federal court denied the motions, and has ruled that we get to proceed.

You can look back at my last update to read their argument, as well as our response.  As I predicted then, it didn’t turn out as they expected.

From the order:

First, I must note this Court is at a loss to understand Defendants’ assertion that because this case involves “a search warrant, rather than an arrest warrant,” it therefore “does not require a showing of probable cause.” Defs.’ Mem. Mot. Dismiss [ECF Nos. 6, 9]. More confusing, Defendants cite favorably to Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983), a case which describes the standard for probable cause in a search warrant. Though puzzling that this is necessary to explain to a member of the bar, “the Fourth Amendment requires that no search warrant shall issue without probable cause.” United States v. Daughtery, 215 F. App’x 314, 316 (4th Cir. 2007).

Indeed, the text of the Fourth Amendment, which has been in place since the adoption of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, states that individuals have the right to be protected “against unreasonable searches and seizures,” and “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” U.S. Const. amend. IV (emphasis added). And a search and seizure without probable cause is unreasonable. Miller, 475 F.3d at 627. This is especially true for searches of the home, which “is first among equals” regarding the Fourth Amendment. Yanez-Marquez v. Lynch, 789 F.3d 434, 464–65 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1, 6 (2013)).

Yep. It says “probable cause” in the Constitution. Hard to get around that…..

 

As previously explained, Defendant Morris violated Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment protections. Thus, the next question is whether the violated right was clearly established at the time of the events in question. “[I]t has long been established that when law enforcement acts in reckless disregard of the truth and makes a false statement or material omission that is necessary to a finding of probable cause, the resulting seizure will be determined to be unreasonable.” Gilliam v. Sealey, 932 F.3d 216, 241 (4th Cir. 2019); see Franks, 438 U.S. at 157.

As the Fourth Circuit has explained, “a reasonable officer cannot believe a warrant is supported by probable cause if the magistrate is misled by statements that the officer knows or should know are false.” Miller, 475 F.3d at 632 (quoting Smith v. Reddy, 101 F.3d 351, 355 (4th Cir.1996)).

Putnam County Creepy Task Force Search Video

Just in case you haven’t seen this making the rounds yet, I uploaded this to Youtube. It’s too big for this site, and I’m done hosting videos directly to Facebook, because they censor everything these days.  The video is pretty self-explanatory.  We will be filing a federal lawsuit.  If you know something, or you have a video of your own, or a similar incident, please let us know.

Episode 1 of the JOHN BRYAN PODCAST – impeachment, constitutional law, gun laws, self defense laws, and glucose meters are screwed up….

https://www.podbean.com/eu/pb-tqqbg-cb4067

Check out Episode 1 of the John Bryan PODCAST, where I pontificate on several topics, including impeachment evidence we’ve supposedly been hearing about, some search and seizure issues pertaining to the open carry of firearms, some self defense firearms issues, and a really crazy discovery that generic brand blood glucose meters, used by diabetics, are apparently way, way off……

 

Update on the Sizemore “search and seizure” civil rights case

Here’s an interesting, and academic (for Constitution nerds), update on the Sizemore federal civil rights lawsuit, which had been in the news recently.

This is the one where the drug “task force” had found heroin in the client’s home, but the case was dismissed after a federal judge found that the officers had made numerous false statements to the magistrate in order to get the search warrant.  This is also actually the case I last posted about, since I haven’t been posting much on here lately.

Should the fact that officers were found to have made false statements under oath to get a fraudulent warrant, have been allowed to go away quietly since drugs were actually found, or should something have been done about it?  The news media wasn’t happy about it, necessarily, but I elected to do something – heroin or no heroin.  And here’s why:

Either “equal justice under the law,” etched into the walls of the Supreme Court, is just decoration, or it actually is enforced and put into practice.

Here is the response brief we just filed to some of the defendants’ motion to dismiss.  I really enjoyed writing this one, because it was as if I were back in my old baseball days, and being a kid who was bigger than most, the pitcher gave me an underhand slow pitch, just begging me to hit it out of the park.  Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t think so.  I really look forward to reading the outcome of this one.  I don’t think it’s going to turn out like they had hoped . . . .

 

Here is the motion to dismiss the defendants filed:

 

Here is the original Complaint itself:

 

Open-Carry of Firearms in WV in 2019: “Am I being detained?”

This is the current state of open-carry law in West Virginia (in my opinion), and it’s tricky relationship with a police officer’s right to do a “Terry” frisk under certain instances, as of February of 2019. Note: government lawyers do, and will, disagree with my analysis.  But mine’s supported by the law. However, proceed at your own risk, and the law may change after I write this, especially since litigation is ongoing….

1. If you’re in a vehicle, and an officer has a suspicion you may be armed, or sees that you’re open-carrying, you may be frisked and temporarily disarmed; 

2. If you’re not in a vehicle subject to a traffic stop, a police officer must have some reasonable articulable suspicion that you are engaged in criminal activity in order to seize and disarm you. Open-carrying a firearm alone is not justifiable suspicion to perform an investigative detention, unless the officer has information that you are a prohibited person unable to possess a firearm.

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Many of you have probably seen the recent lawsuit I’ve been involved with in the Michael Walker v. Putnam County case where we sued over the violation of Mr. Walker’s right to open carry a firearm in West Virginia.

The defense from the government so far is that they are allowed to perform what’s called a “Terry” stop and frisk when they see someone with a gun.  Just to clarify the law, since they obviously misunderstood then, and continue to misunderstand.

A person’s Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution to be free from unreasonable search and seizure are triggered whenever a “seizure” occurs.

When does a seizure occur?

A person is “seized” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment if, “ ‘in view of all [of] the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” United States v. Gray, 883 F.2d 320, 322 (4th Cir.1989) (quoting United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554, 100 S.Ct. 1870, 64 L.Ed.2d 497 (1980)). Specific factors to consider in determining whether a reasonable person would feel free to leave include: (i) the number of police officers present at the scene; (ii) whether the police officers were in uniform; (iii) whether the police officers displayed their weapons; (iv) whether they “touched the defendant or made any attempt to physically block his departure or restrain his movement”; (v) “the use of language or tone of voice indicating that compliance with the officer’s request might be compelled”; (vi) whether the officers informed the defendant that they suspected him of “illegal activity rather than treating the encounter as ‘routine’ in nature”; and (vii) “whether, if the officer requested from the defendant … some form of official identification, the officer promptly returned it.” Mendenhall, 446 U.S. at 554, 100 S.Ct. 1870; Gray, 883 F.2d at 322–23.

The Fourth Circuit has noted that though not dispositive, “the retention of a citizen’s identification or other personal property or effects is highly material under the totality of the circumstances analysis.” United States v. Black, 707 F.3d 531, 538 (2013) (citing Weaver, 282 F.3d at 310 (emphasis added)). In Black, the Court found that, “[i]t is clear that when Officer Zastrow expressly told Black he could not leave, Black was already seized for purposes of the Fourth Amendment.” Black at 538 (emphasis original).

When can a “seizure” be legal as a justified “Terry” Stop and Frisk under Terry v. Ohio?

Federal case law has long been clear that the police officers cannot perform a “Terry stop” of a person lawfully open-carrying a firearm for the purposes of checking his ID and running a background check to determine whether the person is a prohibited person, or to otherwise disarm him, without more.  Although brief encounters between police and citizens require no objective justification, United States v. Weaver, 282 F.3d 302, 309 (4th Cir. 2002), it is clearly established that an investigatory detention of a citizen by an officer must be supported by reasonable articulable suspicion that the individual is engaged in criminal activity. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. at 21, 88 S.Ct. 1868 (1968). 

To be lawful, a Terry stop “must be supported at least by a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the person seized is engaged in criminal activity.” Reid v. Georgia, 448 U.S. 438, 440, 100 S. Ct. 2752 (1980).  The level of suspicion must be a “particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.” United States v. Griffin, 589 F.3d 148, 152 (4th Cir. 2009).  As such, “the officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.” Terry, 392 U.S. at 21, 88 S. Ct. 1868. Moreover, the Fourth Circuit has already made it very clear that in states where open carry is legal, such as West Virginia, if officers have no individualized information that a particular individual who is lawfully open-carrying is a prohibited person, the mere exercise of their rights by open-carrying “cannot justify an investigatory detention.”  Indeed, the Court held that “Permitting such a justification would eviscerate Fourth Amendment protections for lawfully armed individuals in those states.” United States v. Black, 707 F.3d 531, 540 (2013) (quoting United States v. King, 990 F.2d 1552, 1559 (10th Cir. 1993)).

Occupants of a vehicle subject to a lawful traffic stop are a different analysis altogether, and are more likely to be subject to a Terry seizure.  An officer who makes a lawful traffic stop and who has a reasonable suspicion that one of the automobile’s occupants is armed may frisk that individual for the officer’s protection and the safety of everyone on the scene. Robinson at 696 (2017 case) (citing Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 112, 98 S.Ct. 330, 54 L.Ed.2d 331 (1977).

The importance of the Black case to open-carry rights in our circuit:

In 2013, Judge Gregory of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, whom I have had the honor of appearing in front of, issued an opinion in the case of United States v. Black, 707 F.3d 531, 540 (2013), which is central to the rights of West Virginians to open carry firearms.  Although that case was from North Carolina, it applies equally here.  In his opinion, he admonished law enforcement for regularly abusing the Terry Stop procedure to violate the rights of lawful gun owners:

At least four times in 2011, we admonished against the Government’s misuse of innocent facts as indicia of suspicious activity. See United States v. Powell, 666 F.3d 180 (4th Cir.2011); Massenburg, 654 F.3d 480;United States v. Digiovanni, 650 F.3d 498 (4th Cir.2011); and United States v. Foster, 634 F.3d 243 (4th Cir.2011). Although factors “susceptible of innocent explanation,” when taken together, may “form a particularized and objective basis” for reasonable suspicion for a Terry stop, United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 277–78, 122 S.Ct. 744, 151 L.Ed.2d 740 (2002), this is not such a case. Instead, we encounter yet another situation where the Government attempts to meet its Terry burden by patching together a set of innocent, suspicion-free facts, which cannot rationally be relied on to establish reasonable suspicion. 

Second, Gates’ prior arrest history cannot be a logical basis for a reasonable, particularized suspicion as to Black. Without more, Gates’ prior arrest history in itself is insufficient to support reasonable suspicion as to Gates, much less Black. See Powell, 666 F.3d at 188 (“[A] prior criminal record is not, standing alone, sufficient to create reasonable suspicion.” (citation omitted)). Moreover, we “ha[ve] repeatedly emphasized that to be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a search ordinarily must be based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.” DesRoches v. Caprio, 156 F.3d 571, 574 (4th Cir.1998) (quotation marks and alterations omitted) (emphasis added). In other words, the suspicious facts must be specific and particular to the individual seized. Exceptions to the individualized suspicion requirement “have been upheld only in ‘certain limited circumstances,’ where the search is justified by ‘special needs’ ”—that is, concerns other than crime detection—and must be justified by balancing the individual’s privacy expectations against the government interests. Id. (quoting Chandler v. Miller, 520 U.S. 305, 308, 313, 117 S.Ct. 1295, 137 L.Ed.2d 513 (1997)); see Treasury Employees v. Von Raab, 489 U.S. 656, 665–66, 109 S.Ct. 1384, 103 L.Ed.2d 685 (1989). Here, the Government has not identified any substantial interests that override Black’s interest in privacy or that suppress the normal requirement of individualized suspicion. 

Third, it is undisputed that under the laws of North Carolina, which permit its residents to openly carry firearms, see generally N.C. Gen.Stat. §§ 14–415.10 to 14– 415.23, Troupe’s gun was legally possessed and displayed. The Government contends that because other laws prevent convicted felons from possessing guns, the officers could not know whether Troupe was lawfully in possession of the gun until they performed a records check. Additionally, the Government avers it would be “foolhardy” for the officers to “go about their business while allowing a stranger in their midst to possess a firearm.” We are not persuaded. 

Being a felon in possession of a firearm is not the default status. More importantly, where a state permits individuals to openly carry firearms, the exercise of this right, without more, cannot justify an investigatory detention. Permitting such a justification would eviscerate Fourth Amendment protections for lawfully armed individuals in those states. United States v. King, 990 F.2d 1552, 1559 (10th Cir.1993) (emphasis added). Here, Troupe’s lawful display of his lawfully possessed firearm cannot be the justification for Troupe’s detention. See St. John v. McColley, 653 F.Supp.2d 1155, 1161 (D.N.M.2009) (finding no reasonable suspicion where the plaintiff arrived at a movie theater openly carrying a holstered handgun, an act which is legal in the State of New Mexico.) That the officer had never seen anyone in this particular division openly carry a weapon also fails to justify reasonable suspicion. From our understanding of the laws of North Carolina, its laws apply uniformly and without exception in every single division, and every part of the state. Thus, the officer’s observation is irrational and fails to give rise to reasonable suspicion. To hold otherwise would be to give the judicial imprimatur to the dichotomy in the intrusion of constitutional protections. 

United States v. Black, 707 F.3d 531, 540 (2013).