United States v. Alvarez (5th Cir., July 2022)

The Federal Docket

July 25, 2022

Andres Manuel Alvarez was stopped by police because he matched the description of a “Hispanic male” who was in his general area and fleeing the service of an outstanding warrant on a “bicycle with large handlebars.” Though he was determined not to be the person they were looking for, Alvarez was found to have a gun on his person, so he was charged under 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2) for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Prior to trial, Alvarez moved to suppress the gun, arguing that the vague description was insufficient to give police reasonable suspicion to conduct a Terry stop. The district court denied his motion, and Alvarez entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving his right to appeal on this issue.

Reviewing the question de novo, the Fifth Circuit reversed the denial of Alvarez’s motion and vacated his sentence and conviction. Less specific descriptions can only support reasonable suspicion where there is temporal and geographic proximity to very recent or ongoing criminal activity. Here, since the case involved an outstanding warrant, the information relied upon must satisfy a higher liver of specificity. The description of both the suspect and the bicycle would have fit too many individual to constitute particular, articulable facts on which to base reasonable suspicion, and so the stop was invalid.

Judge Jones dissented, arguing that Alvarez’s flight while in a high crime area justified the stop under Illinois v. Wardlow. However, the majority disagreed with hiis characterization of the facts, stating that Alvarez was already riding his bicycle when he saw the police, and merely ignored the police when they asked him to stop. Since there was no lawful authority to detain him, Alvarez was authorized to ignore this command, and was not therefore in “flight.”

Appeal from the Southern District of Texas
Opinion by Duncan, joined by Higginson
Dissent by Jones

Click here to read the opinion

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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