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No illegal seizure following a valid traffic stop

Reginald Gibbs was arrested and pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Before he pleaded guilty to the possession, he filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the firearm seized from him by the police. The district court denied that motion and he appealed the district court’s decision.

The facts leading up to his arrest began when Miami-Dade Police Detective Lopez was patrolling an area he knew as a high crime area in Miami when he spotted an Audi blocking traffic in the direction that Lopez was traveling. He called for back-up and Detective Dweck arrived to assist. When they exited their vehicles the driver of the Audi was standing just outside his care between the Audi and another car parked on a gravel shoulder area next to the road with the space between the two vehicles just wide enough for two people to stand there. Gibbs was standing next to the driver, Jones, and both men stood next to the Audi. When the officers approached, Jones and Gibbs were channeled between the two cars. Lopez approached from one side and Dweck from the other so Jones and Gibbs would not have been able to leave without going through Lopez or Dweck. They were blocked from leaving. As Dweck approached Gibbs, Gibbs appeared to be looking around as if he was about to flee, he then immediately told the detective that he had a gun on him. Because he did not have a permit, he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.

At the suppression hearing, two witnesses said an officer approached Gibbs with gun drawn and yelled for him to get down. The detectives denied drawing their guns or giving any commands.

The court of appeals found that the officers had initially approached the two men as a traffic stop that was justified by the Audi driver illegally stopping his car in the middle of the street and obstructing the flow of oncoming traffic in the single lane. The officers were justified in briefly detaining Gibbs while conducting the traffic stop and citing Jones because Gibbs had located himself in such a way that detaining Jones would naturally cause Gibbs to be detained as well. The court found it was not unreasonable for both detectives to briefly detain Gibbs in order to maintain control of the situation, cite the vehicle and ensure the detectives’ safety.

The court found that the officers had a lawful Fourth Amendment basis to briefly detain for a traffic stop. The fact that the officers drew their weapons did not convert it to an unlawful stop. The court rejected the criminal defense attorneys‘ argument that there was no basis for the court to find that an officer who simply drew his weapon somehow converted a lawful detention into an unlawful one. The court found that the lawfulness of the encounter and the brief seizure of Jones and Gibbs turned on the validity of the stop. The presence of the drawn firearm did not strip the stop of its lawfulness. The stop was lawful and the seizure of the firearm only seconds after the detectives came onto the scene was also lawful.