Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tenth Circuit US v. Fonseca 12-3325

Decision here.

   Fonseca and his girlfriend burglarized a gun shop, then drove across state lines to sell the guns for money to pay their bills.  Unsurprisingly, a lot of the money actually went to hotel rooms and drugs during their weird little vacation, which led to an argument because Fonseca didn't think his girlfriend was being responsible about the whole thing.

   So Fonseca took a bag with the last 8 guns that they had (out of 36) and set off walking on his own.  His girlfriend found a couple other people to get high with, and eventually the three of them went to go pick up Fonseca when he called to ask for a ride.

   By then, a cop was already watching Fonseca.  It was late at night and Fonseca had been walking around in an area with nothing but a lot of closed businesses, and where there had been a rash of auto burglaries.  The cop had been standing around in the parking lot, watching for anyone suspicious.  He called out to Fonseca and asked if he could talk to him.  During the stop, the officer would repeatedly ask for consent to search Fonseca, but Fonseca never agreed.

   Fonseca (who was on the phone with his girlfriend) put the bag down, walked away from it, and then spoke to the officer.  He was very emphatic on the phone about getting his girlfriend to come pick him up, and was giving sketchy answers to the officer's questions.  Fonseca's girlfriend (and the two she was with) showed up right around the time that a backup officer did, and stopped after Fonseca told her on the phone that if she sped off she'd just get pulled over.

   At Fonseca's direction, she surreptitiously picked up the bag of guns and put it in the car (one of the backup officers saw her do it, but didn't say anything about it until later because he was an FTO and his trainee had his hands full dealing with the other two suspects.  The officer who made the stop didn't see her do it, but did notice that the bag had disappeared).  When she was initially asked about it, she gave the officers a different bag (which fooled everyone except the FTO, who still didn't say anything).  

   After Fonseca had been detained for about 20 minutes, the officers found that there was a warrant for his arrest.  It was another 10 minutes before the warrant was confirmed and Fonseca was arrested.  Afterwards, the FTO finally spoke up about the bag, the girlfriend admitted to lying, and then gave consent to search the car.  The cops did search the car, and found the guns in Fonseca's bag (two of which were loaded, and all of which were traced back to the original burglary).

   Fonseca was eventually convicted of possessing stolen firearms.  He appealed his conviction, arguing that the guns should have been suppressed because they were found as the result of an illegal detention.

   To be lawful, a Terry stop must be justified at its inception and reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the stop.  Fonseca acknowledged that the stop was initially justified by reasonable suspicion, but argued that when a few minutes of questioning didn't yield incriminating information then he should have been released.  After reviewing the testimony and video in this case, the court ruled that Fonseca's mannerisms, actions, and answers during the stop were all sufficiently suspicious to justify a few more minutes of detention (the court particularly seemed to notice the sketchiness of Fonseca's responses to questions, and the vanishing bag trick).  Detaining somebody while waiting for NCIC clearance isn't always reasonable, but in this case it was.  And once the officers became aware of the warrant, continuing the detention even further is a given.

   The denial of the motion to suppress was affirmed, Fonseca's conviction upheld.

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