10TH CIRCUIT UPHOLDS SUPPRESSION OF EVIDENCE SEIZED WITHOUT REASONABLE SUSPICION REJECTING CLAIM BY GOVERNMENT THAT THE SUSPECT’S PRESENCE IN A “HIGH-CRIME AREA” JUSTIFIED QUESTIONING ABOUT HIS DRUG USE
The 10th Circuit recently issued an opinion addressing the common situation where the Government seeks to justify extended questioning of citizens based upon the fact that the police encounter takes place in a “high crime area.” Notable, the police officer in the case contacted the suspect for conduct that would never have resulted in police intervention in an affluent section of town.
In United States v. Archuleta, 2015 WL 4296639 (7/16/15) (Ut.) (unpub’d) the 10th Circuit affirmed an order of suppression by the trial court. The appellate court based its decision solely on 4th amendment grounds in finding that the defendant was subjected to a detention without reasonable suspicion.
Mr. Archuleta was charged in federal court with the crime of being a drug user in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3). At 1:25 a.m. a patrol officer stopped Mr. Archuleta because he had committed the offenses of jaywalking and improper bicycle lighting. Mr. Archuleta was carrying a black bag and in response to questioning informed the officer that he was carrying a firearm. In Utah, carrying a gun in a bag did not violate any criminal statute. The officer ran Mr. Archuleta’s criminal history at the scene and found that he had a misdemeanor drug conviction and other drug charges that had not resulted in a conviction.
The Court ruled that at that point Mr. Archuletta should have been released. Instead, the officer repeatedly asked Archuleta questions about his drug use. Ultimately, Archuleta admitted that he was a regular methamphetamine user. The Government used the nexus between the gun possession and the drug use to charge him in federal court. The Government argued at the suppression hearing that the officer had reasonable suspicion to detain the suspect because (1) the encounter took place at 1:25 a.m. (2) in a high crime area and (3) Archuletta had a criminal history for drugs. The 10th Circuit found none of those arguments persuasive. The time of day was found to be a non-factor because Archuletta was going to a 24-hour convenience store. Significantly, the Court ruled that the “high crime” character of the neighborhood had to relate to the crime charged in the case. The officer testified that the area was known for its beer thefts and that the adjoining neighborhood had a high crime rate. The Court noted that the area of the stop was no more likely to be frequented by gun carrying drug users than any other location. The criminal history argument failed as well for lack of a connection to the charged crime. The Court found that the history failed to meaningfully demonstrate that Archuleta to was a “current, active drug user.”