At 0100 three officers are dispatched to a neighborhood in Davenport, Iowa to respond to “shots fired” disturbance complaints. This neighborhood accounted for nearly a third of all shots fired calls for the preceding ten-month period. When they arrived, the officers spotted Houston with their flashlights.  Houston ran and did not stop when they commanded him to “wait.”  One officer saw a handgun in Houston’s hand as he ran. Chasing Houston into his backyard, the officers drew on Houston and he finally stopped. One officer frisked Houston and felt something metallic in his pocket. The officer reached into the pocket and retrieved a set of brass knuckles (a violation of Iowa Code) as well as a pocket knife, a bottle of alcohol, and a cellphone.  After Houston was searched, officers recovered a black pistol in the ravine just beyond the property line. Houston, a convicted felon, was charged with felon in possession of a firearm.

Houston argued he was unconstitutionally seized when the officers told him to “wait.” The court disagreed, citing California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621, (1991) for the proposition that ordered someone to stop does not constitute a seizure unless the person obeys the command and submits.

Houston then argued the seizure of the items from his pockets after he was detained was unconstitutional. Citing Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, (2000), the court held that Houston’s flight from the officers in an area known for gun-related crime was sufficient to justify a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The court further held that since an officer saw a firearm in his hand, the officers had an articulable reasonable suspicion that Houston was armed and dangerous. Therefore, the Terry Frisk was lawful.  Furthermore, since officer felt a hard object that could be used a weapon (brass knuckles), the retrieval of the brass knuckles from the pocket was lawful.  The court then held that since Houston was arrested for the possession of the brass knuckles under Iowa law, the seizure of the others items was lawful as a search incident to arrest.

Lastly, Houston argued that the area of the ravine was his curtilage and therefore the pistol should be suppressed as found in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  The court held this area, beyond his property line, was not Houston’s curtilage and therefore did not implicate his Fourth Amendment rights.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This case provides a very good example of lining up the “Fourth Amendment Dominoes” and making proper Fourth amendment decisions.

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