United States v. Tamaran Bontemps (9th Cir. October 2020)

The Federal Docket

Fourth Amendment – An officer’s testimony that he suspected an individual of possessing a concealed firearm (in a jurisdiction where concealed carry is presumptively unlawful) based on a “very large and obvious bulge” under his sweatshirt was sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion to detain him.

Tamaran Bontemps challenged his conviction for felon in possession of a firearm. Officers had driven by Bontemps and his friends before stoping their patrol vehicle and ordering them to sit on the curb. Officers testified at the suppression hearing that, while passing by them, they had observed “a bulge” on Bontemps left area, under his sweatshirt, and “feared Bontemps was armed.” The officers testified that, based on their training and experience, they believed Bontemps had been carrying a firearm. In California, concealed carry is unlawful, therefore “evidence that a person is concealing a firearm provides an adequate basis to suspect illegal activity and thus grounds to initiate a Terry stop.”

The Ninth Circuit held that, as a matter of “common sense,” a bulge can indicate a firearm and thus “can form the basis for a Terry stop in a jurisdiction where carrying a concealed weapon is presumptively unlawful.” The Court explained that a concealed weapon will always be obscured by something, “typically clothing,” and a rule requiring anything more than a “suggestive bulge…would run counter to Terry‘s fact-based standard and pose obvious safety concerns.”  The Court reasoned that this “particular bulge” on Bontemps’ body was sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion and cited a number of cases involving different types of “bulges”– weapons bulges and drug bulges, and their differences. The Court concluded that there was sufficient evidence in the record for the district court to find this particular bulge could have been a weapon, and that was enough to stop Bontemps.

Appeal from the Eastern District of California

Opinion by Bress, joined by Nelson

Dissent by Gwin (by designation from N.D. Ohio)

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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