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9th Circuit: Not a Crime to Run From Police

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 21, 2019

Running from the law -- literally -- is not a crime.

That's the crib notes version of United States v. Derek Daniel Brown, a decision from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court said it was not a crime in Washington for Brown to run from police even though he had a gun.

Actually, it was not a crime for him to run with a gun and drugs. Because police had no reasonable suspicion to stop Brown for running, he will likely walk away a free man.

Black Man Running

It was not an easy case for the appeals panel because, among other reasons, Brown is black. In today's world, the judges said that could explain why he ran. They said a person, especially a minority living in a high-crime area, may be justified in running from police.

"With no reliable tip, no reported criminal activity, no threat of harm, no suggestion that the area was known for high crime or narcotics, no command to stop, and no requirement to even speak with police, we are left with little more than Brown's flight from the officers, which is not enough under the circumstances," Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote for the court.

The case started in January 2016 when a caller told police there was a man with a gun near the YMCA in Belltown. He was described as a black man with dreadlocks, a camouflage jacket, and red shoes.

Police responded and followed a man who matched the description walking in the area. When they flashed their lights, he ran -- until they stopped him at gunpoint. They searched him and found a gun, cocaine, and cash.

Suppression Revived

He was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession with intent to distribute illegal drugs, and related crimes. Brown's attorney moved to suppress the evidence, but the trial judge denied the motion. Brown was convicted and sentenced to six years.

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed. The appeals court said the police had no reasonable suspicion to stop Brown. "At best, the officers had an unsupported hunch of wrongdoing," the court said.

An anonymous tip is not enough. Plus, it is lawful to carry a gun in Washington. The state requires an owner to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but violations incur only civil penalties.

Unless the government appeals, Brown should be released from prison soon. Jason Sanders, his lawyer, said all the evidence against him was inadmissible.

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