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United States v. Horton

July 26, 2010


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Melloy, Circuit Judge.

Submitted: April 14, 2010

Before LOKEN, BRIGHT, and MELLOY, Circuit Judges.

Thomas Horton appeals the district court's*fn1 denial of his motion to suppress. The district court found that police had reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop Horton and that police did not exceed the permissible scope of the stop. Horton entered a conditional guilty plea to possession of a firearm as a felon, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. We affirm.


On the morning of February 5, 2008, a cab driver arrived at an apartment complex in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to pick up a man later identified as Horton. After waiting ten minutes in front of the complex, the cab driver approached the front door. Horton attempted to exit, but was unable to because the front door was broken. He then went to a second story window and began to exit as if he were going to jump. The cab driver, however, persuaded Horton not to jump. Horton then returned to the front door and pried it open with a knife.

The cab driver drove Horton to the Cedar Rapids bus station. During the drive, Horton talked of gang activity and asked if the cab driver was a police officer. After dropping off Horton at the bus station, the cab driver called the Cedar Rapids Police Department and relayed the incident. The cab driver described Horton as agitated, nervous, and possibly armed with a knife. The cab driver also provided a physical description of Horton as a black male, wearing a black coat and gray shirt and carrying a backpack.

Officers were dispatched to the bus station at 8:23 a.m. While driving by the station, officers saw two black males standing near a bus-loading area. One of the males, Horton, matched the cab driver's physical description but was not carrying a backpack. The officers made a U-turn into the bus-loading area of the station. Upon seeing the approaching police car, Horton briskly walked away from the bus station towards an apartment complex while continually checking to see if the officers were following him. Horton quickly entered the complex, but almost immediately came back outside after discovering the inner doorway to the apartment complex was locked.

Police officers stopped Horton as he exited the complex and explained why they were at the bus station. The officers conducted a pat-down search of Horton but did not find the knife or any other weapon. Police then asked Horton for his name and identification. Horton stated his name was Tony Smith and his birth date was July 5, 1984, but he was unable to provide identification. Officers next requested any piece of paper displaying his identification information. Horton presented the officers with his bus ticket, which was under the name Tony Williams. Horton stated that he uses a fake name for traveling.

Officers next asked Horton to sit in the back of the police car so they could determine his identity, and Horton consented. Once Horton was seated in the police car, officers asked Horton why he was in Cedar Rapids. Horton stated he was visiting his aunt, whom he first referred to as Thelma Jackson but later in the conversation referred to as Thelma Hudson. He also provided police with two additional birth dates, July 4, 1986, and July 5, 1982. While Horton was in the back of the police car, a woman claiming to be Horton's girlfriend called his cell phone and told officers a fourth possible birth date, June 12, 1982.

Soon after, a second group of police officers arrived at the police car with an abandoned black backpack they found at the bus station. Horton claimed ownership of the backpack and denied permission to search the bag. Officers placed the backpack in the trunk of the squad car without conducting a search of the bag.

At this point, an officer smelled burnt marijuana on Horton. When questioned, Horton admitted to smoking marijuana earlier that morning. The cab driver also arrived on the scene, identified Horton and provided officers with additional details of Horton's suspicious behavior. Officers then obtained the address for Horton's aunt and went to the location. No one at the address knew anyone named Tony Smith or Tony Williams. The residents also stated that no one had been at their apartment that morning.

Officers then arrested Horton for interference with official acts at approximately 9:35 a.m. A search of the backpack incident to the arrest revealed a loaded handgun. Horton then denied ownership of the backpack.

Horton was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. ยง 922(g)(1). He moved to suppress the handgun as the fruit of an illegal seizure, and the district court denied his motion. Horton entered a conditional guilty plea, ...

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