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United States v. Groves

March 17, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
DEVON GROVES, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. No. 06 CR 69-Robert L. Miller, Jr., Chief Judge.

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

ARGUED JANUARY 25, 2008

Before FLAUM, ROVNER, and SYKES,Circuit Judges.

A man fired multiple shots into an occupied South Bend, Indiana home, and eyewitnesses told police that Devon Groves was the shooter. After further investigation and consultation with a prosecutor, the lead investigator issued a "crime information bulletin" for Groves indicating he should be picked up if found; the prosecutor had given the go-ahead for the "pickup," and the officer understood that the prosecutor would be seeking an arrest warrant. About a month after the shooting, an anonymous tipster called 911 and reported that she had just seen Groves and he was "probably" carrying a gun. The caller described Groves's clothing, location, and the car he was in, and patrol units were dispatched to the area to look for him. The dispatcher passed along the information from the tip and also advised responding officers that Groves was wanted on a warrant.

Corporal Christopher Slager soon saw Groves riding in a car that matched the description provided by the tipster. Slager initiated a traffic stop, ordered Groves and the other occupants out of the car, and saw a handgun under the seat where Groves had been sitting. Groves was charged under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) with being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. He moved to suppress the gun. As it turned out, the dispatcher had been mistaken about the warrant; in fact, there was no warrant for Groves's arrest, only the "crime information bulletin." The district court denied the suppression motion, and a jury convicted Groves on both counts.

On appeal, Groves renews his challenge to the admission of the gun. We reject his arguments and affirm. Although an anonymous tip is generally insufficient to support an investigative stop, Florida v. J.L.,529 U.S. 266 (2000), there was more supporting this stop than just an anonymous tip. Under United States v. Hensley, 469 U.S. 221 (1985), police may conduct an investigative stop of a suspect based on a "wanted flyer" or "bulletin" like the one at issue in this case. The bulletin issued for Groves was supported by ample reasonable suspicion that he was involved in the earlier shooting, and this in turn was sufficient to justify the stop. A complication is that the dispatcher told responding officers there was a warrant for Groves's arrest, not just a pickup "bulletin." But this mistake did not undermine the pre-existing reasonable suspicion for the stop. Moreover, to the extent that the error had any effect on the validity of the stop, suppression was not required. The Supreme Court has just held that a negligent mistake by police personnel regarding the existence of a warrant does not require application of the exclusionary rule. Herring v. United States, 129 S.Ct. 695 (2009).

I. Background

In the middle of the night on April 30, 2006, residents of a home on South Bendix Street in South Bend were awakened by a man trying to break the lock on their front door. They recognized the man as Devon Groves and called out to him. Groves ran from their front porch, and seconds later, a spray of gunshots tore through the home from the direction in which Groves had run, nearly hitting the home's occupants.

Corporal David Johnson, a gang investigator in the South Bend Police Department, was assigned to the case. After interviewing the eyewitnesses and conducting further investigation, Johnson and other officers met with a deputy county prosecutor, who indicated he would seek an arrest warrant for Groves. In the mean-time, however, the prosecutor authorized Johnson to issue a "pickup" order for Groves. Technically called a "crime information bulletin," these communications are disseminated throughout the South Bend Police Department and are available to all police personnel as well as outside law-enforcement agencies. The bulletin summarized Groves's involvement in the shooting and provided his identifying information so officers could be on the lookout for him. The bulletin also indicated that the prosecutor had given "verbal authorization" for the pickup.

About a month later, on June 1, 2006, South Bend police received an anonymous 911 call that provided information sufficient to immediately locate Groves. The caller indicated that "right now" Groves was standing outside a particular set of addresses on Elmer Street wearing a white shirt, black shorts, and a black hat, and was next to a black car with specialty rims, and "probably" had "a gun on him." This information was immediately dispatched to patrol units over the police radio. The dispatch informed responding officers that there was a warrant for Groves's arrest. Similar information was also transmitted to officers' in-squad computers. Corporal Slager was within a few blocks of Groves's reported location and was first to spot the vehicle matching the tip's description; he saw a man matching Groves's description sitting in the back seat.

Slager stopped the car. Groves initially failed to respond to several commands to show his hands, but Slager eventually removed Groves from the car and secured him in his cruiser without further incident. The driver and another occupant were also ordered out of the car. Once they were secured, Slager returned to the car to conduct a protective sweep. Looking inside the open doors, Slager saw a handgun partially concealed under the driver's seat directly in front of Groves's position where he had been sitting in the back seat. Groves was arrested for possession of the handgun.

Groves was eventually charged with two § 922(g)(1) offenses: possession of a firearm by a felon stemming from his possession of the gun on June 1 and possession of ammunition by a felon from the April 30 shooting incident. Groves moved to suppress the gun. At some point after Groves's arrest, it was determined that the dispatcher had been mistaken about the existence of a warrant; for some unknown reason, the prosecutor never obtained one. Groves argued that Slager had neither probable cause nor reasonable suspicion to stop the car because there was no warrant and the anonymous tip wasn't enough by itself. The district court denied the motion, concluding that the anonymous tip provided enough information to supply reasonable suspicion and that Slager had relied in good faith on the dispatcher's representation about the warrant.

The case was then tried to a jury, which convicted Groves on both counts. He was sentenced to 240 months in prison (120 months on each count to run consecutively), above the applicable ...


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