Where a defendant answered police questioning voluntarily and the police did not obstruct a defendant’s path or prevent him from leaving, the encounter was voluntary and not an illegal seizure.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a decision by U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin.

In December 2015, Chicago police officers Robert Caulfield and Joseph Byrne were patrolling the Altgeld Gardens Housing Complex in the city’s South Side. The officers were in uniform and on patrol as part of a police effort to increase police visibility in anticipation of celebratory gunfire to usher in the new year.

The officers drove an unmarked black Ford. While sitting in the car, the officers saw David Holly walking on a sidewalk inside a courtyard of the complex.

The parties dispute what happened next, but all agreed that the police approached Holly in the courtyard and asked him if he had a gun. Holly immediately said yes. The police then confiscated the gun and arrested Holly.

A grand jury later indicted Holly for possessing a firearm as a felon. Holly moved to suppress the gun evidence, arguing that his encounter with the police was an impermissible seizure. He also argued that the police’s failure to preserve video footage of his arrest and the events preceding it violated his due process rights under Brady v. Maryland.

The U.S. District Court held a hearing on both issues and denied both of Holly’s motions. After a bench trial, Holly was convicted of unlawful gun possession and sentenced to 90 months in prison and 36 months of supervised release.

The appellate panel began by stating that not every police encounter implicates the Fourth Amendment. Citing United States v. Shields, the panel stated that a seizure within the meaning of the amendment takes place if a reasonable person would not feel free to leave.

The panel then stated that it agreed with the district court that Holly’s encounter with the police was voluntary. The panel noted that the police never stopped Holly, redirected his route or otherwise obstructed his walking on the sidewalk or through the courtyard.

The panel then stated that Holly had not shown that the district court’s crediting of the officers’ testimony, or its finding that the officers had no incentive at the time of the incident to engage in misconduct was clearly erroneous.

The panel then found that given the circumstances credited by the district court, a reasonable person would have felt free to leave, rather than answer the officer’s question. The panel stated that it was well-established that a seizure does not occur merely because a police officer approaches an individual and asks him or her questions.

The panel then turned to the issue of the video footage of the encounter. The panel stated that, under Arizona v. Youngblood, the police’s failure to preserve potentially useful evidence does not constitute a denial of due process unless the defendant can show that the police acted in bad faith.

The panel stated that Holly had not made the necessary showings. The panel noted that Detective Peter Scatena made a clear effort to preserve the video by calling and leaving a voicemail requesting the video from the Chicago Housing Authority.

The panel stated that the detective’s failure to follow up on his request may have been negligent, but it did not prove animus or a conscious effort to suppress the video.

As a result, the panel affirmed the district court’s decision.

United States v. David Holly

No. 19-1216

Writing for the court: Judge Michael Y. Scudder Jr.

Concurring: Judges Ilana Diamond Rovner and Amy St. Eve

Released: Oct. 18, 2019