Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lewis: No Fourth Amendment Violation

In U.S. v. Lewis, No. 10-13567 (March 23, 2012) (2-1) (Wilson, J., dissenting), on a government appeal of a district court granting a motion to suppress, the Court reversed, finding no Fourth Amendment violation.
Orange County, Florida police officers entered the parking lot of a restaurant, in a high crime area. They observed four males standing in between two parked vehicles, "just hanging out." The officers approached the men and asked whether any of them were carrying guns. Two of the men responded affirmatively, one saying that a firearm was on his person, and another stating that a firearm was in a backpack in the trunk of the nearby vehicle. Two others (including the defendant Lewis) said nothing. The officers immediately drew their weapons and ordered all four men to sit down on the ground and show their hands. Lewis walked a few steps away from the other men. Lewis was ordered to slide over to the other three men. He complied. Lewis looked "extremely nervous." The officers examined the ground where Lewis was previously seated and saw a semi-automatic pistol underneath a vehicle. Lewis was charged with unlawful possession of this firearm.
The Court found that based on one of the four men’s admission that he was carrying a handgun, the officers had reasonable suspicion that this person was committing a crime under Florida law: carrying a concealed weapon. The Court found that it was reasonable under the circumstances to detain Lewis. The officers faced substantial, immediate danger when confronted with the known possession of the two firearms. The officers "were entitled to control the scene and exercise command over the situation."
Dissenting, Judge Wilson stated that the circumstances permitted a pat down for weapons of those suspected of criminal activity, but there were no "specific and articulable facts" that would give rise to the inference that Lewis was engaged in criminal activity.