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United States v. McPhaul

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 26, 2016

United States of America, Plain tiff-Appellee,
v.
DJUANE MCPHAUL, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued May 31, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 1:14-cr-00203 - Tanya Walton Pratt, Judge.

          Before Easterbrook and Williams, Circuit Judges, and Yandle, District Judge. [*]

          WILLIAMS, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Djuane McPhaul already had a violent felony conviction on his record when he was caught driving with a loaded gun in the car, while wearing body armor. He was charged with being a felon in possession of a gun, and with being a violent felon in possession of body armor. A jury convicted him on the body armor charge but acquitted him on the gun charge. On appeal, he argues that the body armor should have been suppressed because it was discovered through an unconstitutional search. We disagree. The pat-down that revealed the body armor was lawful because officers had probable cause to stop McPhaul-for minor traffic violations, driving on a suspended license, and using a car to flee officers.

         McPhaul also challenges two Sentencing Guidelines enhancements, one for using the body armor "in connection with another felony offense, " and another for attempting to obstruct justice. We reject these challenges too. McPhaul used a car to flee officers, which is a felony, and he wore the body armor while doing so. And when he was in pre-trial custody, he attempted to obstruct justice through several letters he wrote to his cousin. So we affirm his conviction and sentence.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Police Officer Andrew Sell saw a car turn right from the center lane on a three-lane road and then drive through private property to avoid a red light. Using his computer, Sell learned that the car was registered to Djuane McPhaul, whose license was suspended. Sell observed that the driver looked like McPhaul (the computer displayed McPhaul's picture). Sell decided to stop the car, but the driver made some quick turns and then led the police on a mile-long "slow-speed" chase, even after Sell activated his lights and siren. When the driver finally stopped and was arrested, a pat-down revealed that he was wearing body armor, and a loaded gun was found in the car's center console.

         The driver was McPhaul, who had previously been convicted of a crime of violence. He was charged with being a felon in possession of a gun, and with being a violent felon in possession of body armor. While in pre-trial custody he wrote letters to his cousin, telling her she could ignore a grand jury subpoena, and asking her to swear that she put the gun in his car without his knowledge.

         McPhaul unsuccessfully moved to suppress the body armor, arguing it was discovered through an unconstitutional search. At sentencing, the judge applied Guidelines enhancements for using the body armor in connection with another felony offense, and for attempting to obstruct justice. McPhaul's Guidelines range was 24-30 months and the judge imposed a 24-month sentence. McPhaul appeals.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. No Abuse of Discretion in Denying Motion to Suppress Body Armor

         The Fourth Amendment provides that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." U.S. Const, amend. IV. Under certain circumstances, evidence gathered in violation of a defendant's Fourth Amendment rights will be suppressed. See generally United States v. Martin, 807 F.3d 842, 845-46 (7th Cir. 2015). In reviewing the district judge's denial of McPhaul's motion to suppress, we review legal conclusions de novo and findings of fact for clear error. United States v. Jackson, 598 F.3d 340, 344 (7th Cir. 2010).

         "As a general matter, the decision to stop an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred." Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 810 (1996); Carmichael v. Vill. of Palatine, 605 F.3d 451, 456 (7th Cir. 2010). The district court wrote that "Officer Sell observed Mr. McPhaul commit two, and possibly three, traffic infractions, and after running his license plate (which is a reasonable practice of police officers), learned that the car was registered to [a] driver with a suspended license. Officer Sell had probable cause to initiate a traffic stop." We agree.

         But McPhaul did not stop right away. Instead, as the district court wrote, "After Officer Sell turned on his police lights and siren, Mr. McPhaul did not immediately stop but instead traveled for nearly a mile and made four turns before finally coming to a stop in a gas station parking lot. These facts are sufficient probable cause for an arrest for resisting law enforcement in a vehicle." Again, we agree. Under Indiana law, it is a felony to use a vehicle to flee from a law-enforcement officer who has activated his lights and siren in an attempt to make a stop. See Ind. Code §§ 35-44.1-3-1 (a)(3), (b)(1)(A). Because our focus is on probable cause, McPhaul's argument that he was not, in fact, resisting law enforcement-he was only trying to get to a safe place before stopping-is legally irrelevant. E.g., United States v. Reaves,796 F.3d 738, 741 (7th Cir. 2015) ...


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