Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. Criminal Action No. 06-cr-00232) District Judge: Honorable Joseph A. Greenaway.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambro, Circuit Judge
Argued September 25, 2008
Before: BARRY, AMBRO, and JORDAN, Circuit Judges.
Three police officers were on routine patrol in a Hoboken, New Jersey housing project when they received an anonymous tip that a male with dreadlocks and blonde hair tips was seen carrying a handgun somewhere in the area. The officers immediately believed the description of the suspect matched the defendant, Ronald "Ricky" Crandell, whom they recognized for his distinctive appearance and rap sheet. While searching for Crandell in the neighborhood, the officers spotted him walking toward them. They approached him, which led to a pat-down and the recovery of a gun.
A federal grand jury indicted Crandell for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Prior to trial, he moved to suppress evidence of the handgun as the fruit of an illegal Fourth Amendment seizure. The District Court held a suppression hearing. In a comprehensive opinion, the Court presumed a seizure based on the anonymous tip, and granted the motion to suppress.
The Government appeals that ruling.*fn1 It argues that Crandell was not seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment; rather, based on all the circumstances, the encounter was consensual.
We agree that the threshold question of whether Crandell was seized by the officers must be determined by evaluating all the circumstances surrounding the encounter, as a presumption does not suffice in this case. In so concluding, we explore why the tip, which raised the officers' suspicion and led to the encounter with Crandell, does not affect the initial seizure inquiry. We thus remand for further proceedings.
On July 15, 2005, three Hoboken Police Department officers-Arbend Drishti, Angel Valez, and Jimmy Miller-were on routine foot patrol in a residential area known as the Hoboken Housing Authority. Officer Drishti received an anonymous and uncorroborated tip from the police dispatch center about an armed man seen somewhere in the Housing Authority.*fn2 The police report described "a black male with dread locks and blonde tips[,] wearing a tan shirt and blue jeans[,] in possession of a handgun on his waistband (small of his back)." Based on this description, Officers Drishti and Valez immediately believed the armed man was Crandell. Officer Valez recognized Crandell's distinctive description because Valez had seen Crandell's picture on numerous occasions in roll call and knew that he had been arrested several times in the area the officers patrolled. After receiving the dispatch, the three officers went to the intersection of Fifth and Jackson Streets in Hoboken to search for Crandell because it is a "high crime area" that he "frequents." However, they did not see him at that location.
B. The Encounter with Police
The officers walked south from the intersection, crossing Jackson Street toward Fourth Street. "Approximately halfway between Fourth Street and Fifth Street, [they] saw [Crandell] walking toward them."*fn3 United States v. Crandell, 509 F. Supp. 2d 435, 439 (D.N.J. 2007). Crandell did not react when he saw the three uniformed officers and kept walking in their direction. The ...