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United States v. Shaffers

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

June 26, 2018



          Honorable Thomas M. Durkin United States District Judge

         Defendant Ramone Shaffers was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) based on evidence found during a warrantless search of his car by two Chicago police officers. Shaffers has now moved to suppress the physical evidence of the firearm and his post-arrest statements on the basis that they were obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. R. 23. On May 11, 2018, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion to suppress. The Court then asked the parties to brief two issues raised during the hearing: (1) whether hearing “loud music” and smelling cannabis by the officers provided sufficient reasonable suspicion for them to conduct a Terry stop; and (2) whether the location of Shaffers's vehicle in a parking spot in an alleyway reserved for tenants was relevant to the Court's Fourth Amendment analysis under the recently decided case of Collins v. Virginia, 138 S.Ct. 1663 (2018). Shaffers and the government filed briefs addressing the issues raised by the Court. R. 44, 48, 50, 51. For the following reasons, Shaffers's motion to suppress is denied.

         Factual Background [1]

         On October 16, 2016, around midnight, Shaffers was at a party at his sister's apartment. Shaffers, his girlfriend Talieta Fulton, his other sister Shirley Butler, and her boyfriend Cornell Westberry, left the party to go to the store. Before going to the store, they sat in Shaffers's parked car playing loud music and smoking cigarettes. The car was parked in a parking lot reserved for tenants and their guests adjacent to an alley in the 6200 block of S. Cottage Grove Avenue behind Shaffers's sister's apartment. The parking lot was a row of spaces next to the alley and was separated from the apartment building by a set of stairs and a short fence. The parking lot also had a sign that warned that illegally parked and unauthorized vehicles would be towed. Shaffers's parked car was not blocking the alley. There is some dispute as to whether Shaffers and the passengers were smoking marijuana in the car-all three passengers testified they were not smoking marijuana in the car, but Butler testified that she and Westberry smoked marijuana before entering the car. Butler also testified that she threw the “duck” (i.e. the end of a joint) out the window before lighting up her cigarette. There was no marijuana found in the car.

         Chicago police officers Streeper and Bruno were patrolling the alley, which is located in a high-crime area with significant gang activity. They did not receive any noise complaints that led them to investigate the alley. Officers Streeper and Bruno heard loud music and smelled a strong odor of burnt cannabis coming from Shaffers's vehicle. They pulled up behind Shaffers's car and blocked it from leaving. They got out of their car, approached the vehicle, and Officer Streeper drew his weapon. Officer Streeper testified that as the officers approached the vehicle, they observed Shaffers, who was sitting in the driver's seat, make “furtive” movements toward the driver's side floorboard. Officer Streeper told Shaffers to put his hands on the steering wheel. At first, Shaffers did not comply, but eventually put his hands on the wheel. The officers then ordered Shaffers and Westberry to exit the vehicle. As Officer Bruno proceeded to attempt to handcuff Westberry and Shaffers together, Shaffers fled on foot. Officer Bruno chased after Shaffers but was unable to catch him. Butler and Fulton were also eventually ordered to exit the vehicle.

         While Butler was still in the back seat, Officer Streeper searched the vehicle and discovered a handgun and ammunition. The gun was found by the driver's seat, “in plain view.” The three passengers who remained were arrested, questioned, and released without charges. Shaffers's car was impounded. All three passengers testified that the gun did not belong to them. They also testified that they did not see Shaffers with a gun that night before the officers found it. Shaffers was arrested on June 30, 2017.[2]


         The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Shaffers contends the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by unreasonably (1) seizing him by blocking his vehicle, preventing him from leaving, and by pointing a weapon at him; and (2) searching his vehicle without a warrant.

         A. Unreasonable Seizure

         1. Seizure

         The government first argues that the alleged seizure of Shaffers does not implicate the Fourth Amendment because Shaffers had voluntarily stopped his car. “Obviously, not all personal intercourse between policemen and citizens involves ‘seizures' of persons. Only when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen may we conclude that a ‘seizure' has occurred.” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 n. 16 (1968). “A consensual encounter between an officer and a private citizen does not trigger the Fourth Amendment. . . . A consensual encounter becomes a seizure when a reasonable person in those circumstances would not feel free to leave.” United States v. Clements, 522 F.3d 790, 794 (7th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted).

         The government cites to Clements and United States v. Williams, 285 Fed.Appx. 284 (7th Cir. 2008) in support of its argument that the officers' encounter with Shaffers does not implicate the Fourth Amendment because Shaffers had parked voluntarily-he was not pulled over by the officers. R. 26 at 4. In Clements, the police received a complaint that Clements had been parked outside of a residence for four hours with the engine running. The officers parked fifteen to twenty feet behind his vehicle. The court held Clements was not seized when the officers approached his car because they did “nothing that could have made Clements feel that his freedom was restrained: they did not draw their weapons, they did not surround Clements's car with multiple squad cars or officers or otherwise prevent him from driving away, they did not lay a hand on Clements, and they did not use forceful language or tone of voice until after the officers felt threatened by Clements's gesture with the knife.” Clements, 522 F.3d at 795. Likewise in Williams, Williams was sitting in his parked car under a “no loitering” sign when police officers drove up in their squad car, smelled marijuana, and asked Williams to get out of the car. Williams, 285 Fed.Appx. at 285. They did not engage the squad car's siren or overhead flashing lights. Id. Instead of complying, Williams drove away. The court held that the officers' initial approach of Williams's vehicle was not a seizure at all because, like in Clements, Williams was already sitting in a stopped car. Id. at 287.

         Here, unlike Clements and Williams, the officers' initial approach was a seizure that implicates the Fourth Amendment because it “restrained [Shaffers's] liberty” through the use of “physical force or show of authority.” Terry, 392 U.S. at 19 n. 16; see also United States v. Johnson, 874 F.3d 571, 574 (7th Cir. 2017) (“two squad cars, which bathed the parked car in bright light, implied that the occupants were not free to drive away” and was a seizure). The officers blocked Shaffers's vehicle, preventing him from leaving, and approached Shaffers's vehicle with at least one gun drawn. No. reasonable person would have felt free to leave under such circumstances, and Shaffers was physically prevented from moving his car. The officers' conduct constitutes a seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

         2. ...

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