United States v. Anthony Yarbrough (11th Cir. June 2020)

The Federal Docket

July 7, 2020

Fourth Amendment/Protective Sweeps – The existence of multiple vehicles and people, the observation of actions consistent with the destruction of evidence, and the immediacy and brevity of a protective sweep by law enforcement all support the determination that an officer had reasonable suspicion sufficient to justify the sweep.

Anthony Yarbrough was indicted for possession of a firearm as a convicted felon under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). He filed a motion to suppress that was granted by the district court, which also denied the government’s motion for reconsideration.

The government appealed, arguing that the district court erred in granting Yarbrough’s motion to suppress. The Court agreed, holding that, “when viewed in [its] entirety,” the evidence demonstrated a reasonable, objective apprehension for officer safety.

By the time officers conducted the sweep, officers had arrived at the scene with arrest warrants, arrested Yarbourgh and his wife, secured them outside the home, and then re-entered the home to conduct a “protective sweep” without a search warrant. The officer who testified at the suppression hearing had learned of Yarbrough from an anonymous tip that Yarbrough was involved in drugs, discovered Yarbrough had outstanding arrest warrants, and was informed through another anonymous tip that Yarbrough was at his home with others.

The Court noted that anonymous tips, while alone insufficient to provide reasonable suspicion, supported the officer’s inference of possible drug activity. This inference in turn supported the officer’s fear of the presence of other persons or weapons. The Court distinguished this from cases where anonymous tips were the only justification for a protective sweep. Here, there were multiple persons and vehicles at the scene, which “suggested that multiple people could be present in addition” to the ones already apprehended.

When officers arrived and arrested Yarbrough and the others outside, and a Terry frisk revealed no contraband. Officers approached the house and called out for Yarbourgh’s wife, and she ran to another room. An officer entered to arrest her and escorted her outside. The officer testified that he believed someone “could possibly” still be in the house and performed a protective sweep.

The Court held that Yarbrough’s wife’s flight in response to the officer’s command supported the determination of reasonable suspicion supporting the sweep, especially since the flight suggested the destruction of evidence. Further, the immediacy between the apprehension of visible suspects and the protective sweep further justified the officer’s belief. The Court also held that the brevity of the search indicated that the officer only searched where a person reasonably might be hiding.

Dissenting, Judge Ungaro wrote that there was not sufficient specific and articulable facts to support an objectively reasonable belief that someone dangerous remained in the house. She noted that there was no evidence at the scene to corroborate the anonymous tips, the suspects had been patted down and apprehended outside, and there was only the officer’s subjective belief that someone remained in the house.

Appeal from the Northern District of Alabama

Opinion by Branch, joined by Marcus.

Dissent by Ungaro (by designation from S.D. Fla.) 

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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