A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

By Burt Rose
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The UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS for the FOURTH CIRCUIT has decided the matter of UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellant v. TRAVIS GAINES, Appellee, No. 11-4032 (1/27/12).

A federal grand jury in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland indicted Gaines on one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Prior to trial, Gaines moved to suppress the firearm on the grounds that the stop and subsequent search of his person violated the Fourth Amendment.

Police stopped a Ford Crown Victoria, in which Travis Gaines was a passenger, for a motor vehicle violation. One officer patted Gaines down for safety concerns. When the officer felt what he believed was a gun, he yelled to his fellow officers, “gun.” At that point, Gaines assaulted the officers in an effort to flee, elbowing one in the face and slugging another. After the officers arrested Gaines, pushing his torso into the open trunk of the vehicle, the gun fell from Gaines’ waistband onto the floor of the trunk, and the officers seized it as evidence in this case.

The District Court determined that the Government failed to establish that the traffic stop was based on reasonable and articulable suspicion of unlawful conduct. On appeal, the Government conceded that the traffic stop and consequent pat down of Gaines were unlawful.

The majority agreed with the lower court that the gun had to be suppressed because the officers discovered the gun before Gaines committed his independent criminal act of assault, and therefore the assault did not purge the taint of the unlawful stop. As the majority stated, “We have little difficulty concluding that where, as here, the discovery of the challenged evidence follows an unlawful search, but precedes an independent criminal act on the part of the defendant, that criminal act is not an intervening event for purposes of determining whether the ‘taint of the unlawful police action is purged.’”

Gaines’ assault of the officers did not purge the taint of the unlawful stop. Gaines was ordered out of the vehicle and patted down, the gun was discovered, and only then did Gaines attack the officers. The firearm was discovered by the officer as a direct result of the illegal stop, and not as a result of Gaines’ subsequent illegal behavior assaulting the officers. The district court therefore properly granted Gaines’ motion to suppress.

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