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United States v. Waterman

June 24, 2009


Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. (D.C. Criminal No.1-07-cr-00073-1) District Judge: Honorable Sue L. Robinson.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rendell, Circuit Judge


Argued March 24, 2009

Before: RENDELL, AMBRO, and JORDAN, Circuit Judges.


Although this case presents multiple Fourth Amendment issues -- probable cause for an arrest, consent to search, and the admissibility of unwarned inculpatory statements -- our inquiry is confined to the sole issue decided by the District Court whether the defendant was "stopped" under Terry v. Ohio,392 U.S. 1 (1968).

The District Court held that police effected a Terry stop, that reasonable suspicion for the stop was lacking, and that contraband discovered thereafter must be suppressed. The government urges that the District Court should have determined, based on California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621, 627 (1991), that Waterman was not "seized" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. We conclude that we are required to reverse the District Court based upon Hodari D., and will remand for further proceedings.

The scene is properly set by the District Court's findings of fact, which are not challenged by the parties on appeal. Officers Nowell and Ashe responded to a dispatcher's report that an anonymous informant had observed a "subject" with a gun at 1009 West Seventh Street in Wilmington, Delaware. The dispatcher did not indicate the tip's reliability. Officers Nowell and Ashe responded to the call in a marked police vehicle. As the pair proceeded down West Seventh Street, they observed the silhouettes of five people standing on the front porch of a house. Turning on a spotlight, Officer Ashe confirmed that the address of the house was 1009, and that two females and three males were on the porch. Waterman was standing in the middle of the group, near the front door to the residence. Getting out of the police cruiser, Officer Ashe positioned herself 8-10 feet from the residence, while Officer Nowell approached the house. Ashe did not observe any weapons but ordered the individuals on the porch to place their hands in the air for safety reasons. All complied except Waterman, who kept his hands in his jacket pockets. The District Court found the following events ensued:

7. From her vantage point, Ashe had an unobstructed view of defendant. Ashe did not see a weapon in defendant's hands; however, based on her training, Ashe suspected that defendant might have been armed because he had moved his hands toward his waistband. Ashe and Nowell drew their firearms as Ashe repeatedly commanded defendant to put his hands in the air. Defendant did not comply; he moved one of his hands behind his back and turned the doorknob of the front door. The door didn't open. Ashe thought the door was locked. Ashe continued, unsuccessfully, to order defendant to show his hands. Ashe and Nowell maintained their weapons in a drawn position, aimed at the individuals standing on the porch.

8. Just then, Deborah Waters opened the door and stepped onto the porch. As Deborah Waters exited, defendant entered the residence. Nowell, standing near the porch, thrust his leg into the doorway to prevent the door from being shut.

A. 7 (internal citations omitted).

The District Court concluded that Waterman was effectively "stopped" when Officer Ashe commanded everyone on the porch to put their hands in the air. Hence, what transpired next -- Waterman's "failure to follow Ashe's command," the officers' "drawing their weapons," and Waterman's "suspected conduct in the residence" -- could not "cure this initial unconstitutional violation." A. 16. Based on the unlawful "seizure" on the porch, the Court suppressed a gun and drugs subsequently discovered in the residence.

In Hodari D., the Supreme Court held that an arrest "requires either physical force . . . or, where that is absent, submission to the assertion of authority." 499 U.S. at 626 (emphasis in original). The Court explained that the concept of physical force necessary for a "seizure" does not consist merely of the show of authority,*fn1 but, rather, requires the application of force or "laying on of hands."*fn2

With respect to "submission," the Court noted that compliance with police orders to stop should be encouraged. This would seem to require something more than a momentary pause or mere inaction.*fn3 The Court did not differentiate between an "arrest" and a Terry stop, and we have universally looked to the requirements set forth in Hodari D. to determine whether a police ...

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