United States v. Meidel: Motions to Suppress Evidence in Felon in Possession of Firearms Cases

Tags: Criminal Defense

United States v. Meidel, an appeal from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit, involved a man (“Defendant”) who neighbors complained was firing a gun in the direction of nearby houses. Police performed a background check of Defendant and learned that he was a convicted felon.

Our Birmingham Felon in Possession of a Firearm attorneys understand that both state and federal laws make it illegal for some individuals to own a handgun.

Investigating officers also learned that Defendant’s girlfriend had purchased a 9mm semiautomatic pistol from a local convenience store. Officers noted Defendant had purchased 9mm ammunition on two occasions at the same store. The store manager identified Defendant from a photo array. A witness at the store also reported that Defendant had confronted him and lifted up his shirt to expose the handle of a gun.

Later that month, officers were in Defendant’s neighborhood conducting an investigation into the report of a suspicious vehicle. The officers approached Defendant and inquired as to whether he had any knowledge of the vehicle in question. Defendant and his girlfriend were in their fenced-in yard. One officer testified that he approached cautiously, because he had reason to believe Defendant was armed and dangerous.

According to court records, Defendant was polite and said that he knew about the vehicle and had seen it in the neighborhood. At this point, officers were standing on the public side of the fence. When they were finished talking, Defendant turned and walked back to the house, when officers allege that they observed what appeared to be a semiautomatic pistol tucked into his pants at the small of his back. When asked if he had a gun, he said yes, a pellet gun.

Officers testified that his attitude changed at this point, but he kept walking toward the house. The officers claimed he was about to pass behind a large dumpster that would have obscured view of Defendant. Officers asked Defendant to identify himself. When he confirmed his identify, they informed him that he was under arrest. At this point, officers claim that he kept walking away but reached back towards his waistband. Officer drew their weapons and ordered Defendant onto the ground. He did not comply, and both officers jumped the fence, performed a takedown maneuver on Defendant, and handcuffed him. Officers recovered a 9mm handgun. Based upon his previous investigation and the gun, officers obtained a search warrant for Defendant’s home. During the search, they discovered 9mm ammunition and a loaded 9mm magazine.

Defendant was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. In Alabama, felon in possession is both a violation of state and federal law. Alabama state law makes it a crime to possess a pistol if you have previously been convicted of a violent crime or the attempt to commit a violent crime.

In, Miedel, Defendant moved to suppress the handgun from evidence on grounds that it was obtained during an illegal search and seizure. This motion was denied by the trial court and Defendant appealed this denial.

The only issue before the appellate court was whether there were exigent (emergency) circumstances to enter Defendant’s yard without a valid warrant. Normally, police cannot enter someone’s home (or land) without a valid warrant. However, there is an exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. Here, the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that officers had a reason to believe Defendant was a threat and to prevent him from going behind the dumpster, so the conviction was affirmed.

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