A Roswell NM police officer on patrol in the early morning hours heard a report of a reckless driver. He observed a car make an abrupt “suspicious” turn in a high-crime neighborhood and then pull into a driveway. The officer parked (blocking the driveway) and observed Goebel exit the vehicle, pass a van parked in the driveway that had an open door, and pass through a gate into the backyard. When Goebel returned from the backyard, he indicated he was there to give a resident “Joseph” a ride to work. The officer told him to stand on the sidewalk and went to the front door. The resident who opened the door indicated there was no Joseph there and that she did not know Goebel. At that point the officer cuffed Goebel and told him he was being detained. The resident of the house gave the officer consent to search the back yard and the van. He noticed a gate partially open in the back yard and discovered a firearm in the alley.
Goebel was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. He moved to suppress, which the district court denied. He pleaded guilty conditioned on his ability to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. On appeal, Goebel argued the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress, contending the arresting officer lacked reasonable suspicion to detain him and his statements were obtained in violation of the Fifth Amendment.
The Tenth Circuit disagreed. The court first noted that the simple act of blocking the driveway did not constitute a seizure. By the time Goebel had returned from the backyard, the officer had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. First, the court noted it is unusual for a person to walk into the backyard of a house at 3:30 in the morning. Second, the officer knew the surrounding area to be a high-crime neighborhood. Third, when the officer pulled up to the residence, the passenger exited the vehicle and approached the officer in what appeared to him to be an effort at distraction. Fourth, the passenger could not tell the officer the address of the residence in whose driveway they had just parked. Fifth, the officer could not see any lights on in the residence, and there was a van parked in the driveway with an open side door. Finally, the officer had earlier observed Goebel’s car driving evasively. All of these specific facts, taken together with the rational inferences the officer drew from them, reasonably warranted Goebel’s detention for further investigation. The court further held that there was nothing about the exchange on the sidewalk between Goebel and the officer that converted the conversation into a custodial interrogation. Accordingly, Miranda warnings were not required.
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