United States v. Morris (5th Cir. July 2022)

The Federal Docket

August 8, 2022

As Neguel Morris was driving out of a parking lot, two deputies on foot flagged him down until he stopped his car. They then took his driver’s license, subjected him to lengthy questioning, and ordered him out of his car. Ultimately the deputies decided that Morris had consented to a search of his car, at which point they found a kilogram of heroin and arrested him.

Morris filed a motion to suppress the evidence found during that search, arguing that he was illegally stopped and, as such, any purported consent he gave was tainted. The district court denied Morris’s motion, finding that the deputies’ encounter with him was not a “stop” under the Fourth Amendment. Morris then entered a conditional guilty plea, preserving his right to appeal on this issue.

Reviewing the case for clear error, the Fifth Circuit vacated the denial of the motion and remanded. The command of a visual signal from officers on foot is not materially different from the flashing lights of a police cruiser, and so the deputies here clearly made a show of authority that a reasonable person would have felt compelled to obey. Additionally, even if Morris had not been stopped beforehand, the deputy’s order to Morris to get out of his car would have converted the encounter to a stop at that point. Finally, the officers’ words to Morris, which consistently conditioned his ability to leave the encounter on his compliance with their demands, also militate towards a finding that a reasonable person in his situation would not have felt free to leave.

Since the question of whether or not Morris was stopped at all was a threshold issue for the other issues in his motion, which the district court made no findings on, the Fifth Circuit remanded for a determination on those other matters.

Appeal from the Western District of Louisiana
Per Curiam Opinion before Dennis, Higginson, and Costa

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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