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Criminal – Police had reasonable suspicion to detain defendant

Where a law enforcement officer knew there was a warrant for someone named “Lewis,” knew the defendant was known as “Lewis” and the defendant fled when he was told about the warrant, the officer had reasonable suspicion to detain him.

Curtilage argument

Before the district court, appellant asserted there was a lack of reasonable suspicion to justify his seizure. But on appeal, appellant now argues that Sergeant Townsend needed to have probable cause rather than reasonable suspicion because appellant was within the curtilage of his home when he was seized.

Appellant did not raise his curtilage argument to the district court in the first instance in his motion to suppress. Where an appellant raises an issue for the first time on appeal, we can review it applying a plain error standard.

Here, it is not apparent that appellant was seized within the curtilage of his property. Appellant argues that Sergeant Townsend actually seized him during the initial encounter in the yard near his front door rather than at the fence line. But in either case, there is no plain statement of law announcing that a defendant’s yard or an area near the fence line of his home must be considered curtilage. Curtilage determinations are fact-specific inquiries and are heavily particularized to an individual case.

Where, as here, we have yet to announce a clear-cut rule for that portion of a defendant’s yard outside of its fence, we are unable to say on plain error review that the district court erred in failing to determine sua sponte that the seizure occurred on appellant’s curtilage. We are even less able to say that such an error is “clear under current law.” Therefore, we cannot conclude that the district court plainly erred in allowing reasonable suspicion to support the seizure in this case.


The district court’s decision is based on the proposition that Sergeant Townsend had reasonable suspicion to justify his seizure pursuant to Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).

Appellant first asks us to evaluate the district court’s conclusion that the initial encounter at his front door was not a Fourth Amendment seizure because it was consensual. This analysis is important because if the initial encounter was a seizure, it could be justified only by the facts and circumstances known to Sergeant Townsend at that time, which would not yet include appellant’s flight.

We hold that the district court correctly determined the initial encounter  in  this  case was not a Fourth Amendment seizure. Presumably, Sergeant Townsend was armed and in uniform during the encounter, but he was alone, and taking the facts in the light most favorable to the government, he did not draw his weapon or attempt to block appellant’s departure, restrain his movement or touch him.

Sergeant Townsend’s mention of the warrant may have suggested he suspected appellant of illegal activity, but his questioning was otherwise nonthreatening. Further still, though not outcome determinative, appellant’s own assertion that he felt free to leave supports our conclusion.

We therefore affirm the district court’s conclusion that the relevant seizure for Fourth Amendment purposes occurred at the point at which appellant ran to the side of the house and was seized at the fence line.

Agreeing with the district court that the fence line confrontation constitutes the relevant seizure, we analyze de novo whether Sergeant Townsend possessed reasonable suspicion based on the facts known to him at that time. The “specific and articulable facts” here include appellant’s flight upon mention of the warrant combined with Sergeant Townsend’s knowledge of the “Lewis” warrant, of appellant as a “Lewis” and of appellant’s reputation as a neighborhood bully, given that the warrant was for assault.

We hold that these circumstances taken together provided Sergeant Townsend with reasonable suspicion sufficient to detain appellant.


United States v. Lewis (Per curiam) Appeal No. 18-4487. Dec. 26, 2019. From D.S.C. (Robert Bryan Harwell, C.J.) Kimberly Harvey Albro for Appellant, Everett E. McMillian for Appellee. 12 pp.


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