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United States v. Easler

United States District Court, D. Maine

July 1, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
DANIEL EASLER, Defendant

          DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS

          LANCE E. WALKER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant Daniel Easler is indicted as a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). Indictment (ECF No. 5). Easler moves to suppress evidence gathered from his person on the night of December 4, 2018. Mot. Suppress 1 (ECF No. 26). A hearing on the motion was held on June 24, 2019. After careful consideration of the evidence and the arguments of counsel, Defendant's motion to suppress is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         On the evening of December 4, 2018, the Caribou Police Department received a call from a citizen who reported witnessing a GMC pickup suddenly veer off the road and into a snow bank. The citizen indicated that when he pulled over to assist, the driver (who was later identified as Defendant Easler) approached his car and asked for a ride, saying: “I need to get out of here.” Because Easler was “acting odd” and “something seemed off, ” the citizen declined to give Easler a ride. Easler went back to his truck and the citizen (who remained at the scene) did not see him again.

         Eric Depner, an officer with the Caribou Police Department, arrived at the scene approximately 15 minutes later and observed the GMC pickup stuck in a snowbank, but was unable to locate Easler. Officer Depner then identified a fresh set of footprints in the snow and followed the footprints past a nearby apartment building, into the surrounding woods, and then through a potato field. When his flashlight malfunctioned, Officer Depner called for backup and returned to the GMC pickup. Officer Depner reported that it was extremely cold that evening.

         Sergeant Keith Ouellette[1] arrived on the scene and while Officer Depner directed traffic near the GMC pickup, Sergeant Ouellette followed the footprints. Based on the trajectory of the footprints, Sergeant Ouellette directed Officer Depner to an area where he anticipated Easler may be located. Officer Depner drove his police cruiser to the general area indicated by Sergeant Ouellette, got out of his cruiser, and found Easler lying face down in the snow with his hands above his head. Officer Depner instructed Easler to his feet. After Easler stood up, Officer Depner observed a shotgun on Easler's person hanging from a sling. Officer Depner drew his gun, directed Easler to the roadway, ordered him to the ground, and updated dispatch. Officer Depner noted that Easler matched the description provided by the citizen.

         Officer Ouellette and Officer Gerard Lemoine arrived on the scene, secured Easler by handcuffing him, and then searched him. In addition to the loaded pump-action shotgun visible on Easler's body, this search revealed a loaded Highpoint brand 9-mm handgun, a drug kit, a clear bag which the officers believed contained methamphetamine, a set of handcuffs, and a methamphetamine pipe. At all times Easler refused to identify himself. The officers formally arrested Easler and brought him to the police station.

         At the police station, Easler continued to refuse to identify himself. Police officers then used a fingerprint scanner and identified him as Daniel Easler. During this identification process, the officers learned that Easler was a felon whose driver's license had been revoked and who had several outstanding warrants and sets of bail conditions. Officers also learned that the handgun discovered on Easler's person had been reported as stolen.

         DISCUSSION

         In support of his motion to suppress Easler advances two arguments. First, he argues that the officers did not have a “reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity at the time of the search” as required by the Fourth Amendment. Mot. Suppress, ¶ 7. Second, he asserts that even if the stop was initially lawful and officers could articulate a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the stop nevertheless evolved into a de facto arrest unsupported by probable cause, as evidenced by “the method and circumstances of the detention . . . at the time of the search and seizure.” Id. ¶ 8, 10-11. I will address each argument in turn.

         I. Terry Stops

         The Fourth Amendment guarantees the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. When an officer temporarily detains an individual, they effectuate a “seizure” that necessarily implicates the Fourth Amendment. United States v. Romain, 393 F.3d 63, 70-71 (1st Cir. 2004). However, a temporary detention, also known as a “Terry stop, ” is not violative of a defendant's constitutional rights if the stop is “based on a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity may be afoot.” United States v. Rabbia, 699 F.3d 85, 89 (1st Cir. 2012); see also Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 22 (1968) (“[A] a police officer may in appropriate circumstances and in an appropriate manner approach a person for purposes of investigating possibly criminal behavior even though there is no probable cause to make an arrest.”). When evaluating a Terry stop, courts consider whether an officer reasonably suspected criminal activity before engaging with the individual - in other words, whether the stop was “justified at its inception” - and whether, as the stop progressed, the officer's actions were “reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference.” United States v. Pontoo, 666 F.3d 20, 26 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting United States v. Acosta-Colon, 157 F.3d 9, 14 (1st Cir. 1998)).

         A. Reasonable Suspicion

         The lynchpin of the first inquiry, reasonable articulable suspicion, requires “more than a naked hunch that a particular person may be engaged in some illicit activity, ” but yet “does not require either probable cause or evidence of a direct connection linking the suspect to the suspected crime.” United States v. Chhien, 266 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2001); see also United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7 (1989) (“The officer, of course, must be able to articulate something more than an ‘inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch.'” (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 27)). In addition to an officer's own observations, information ...


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