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State v. Walker

Supreme Court of Georgia

October 20, 2014

THE STATE
v.
WALKER

Certiorari to the Court of Appeals of Georgia -- 323 Ga.App. 558.

George H. Hartwig III, District Attorney, Daniel P. Bibler, Assistant District Attorney, for appellant.

Angela M. Coggins, Gerald R. Weber, Jr., for appellee.

HINES, Presiding Justice. All the Justices concur, except Benham, J., who dissents. BENHAM, Justice, dissenting.

OPINION

Page 805

Hines, Presiding Justice.

This Court granted a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals in Walker v. State, 323 Ga.App. 558 (747 S.E.2d 51) (2013), to determine if that Court erred in reversing the trial court's denial of the motion to suppress evidence of cocaine found as a result of an encounter between a police officer and Ernest Walker, Sr. Finding that the Court of Appeals erred, we reverse that Court's judgment.

According to the facts as found by the trial court after the hearing on Walker's motion to suppress,[1] Officer David Adriance, of the Warner Robins Police Department, was patrolling an area near an elementary school at 12:12 a.m. on February 23, 2011; he had been advised to be on the lookout for a black male in dark clothing who was a suspect in the attempted theft of a motorcycle. Officer Adriance saw Walker, who was wearing a hooded blue sweatshirt and light-colored pants, on foot on the grounds of the school. Officer Adriance approached Walker, telling him to remove his hands from his pockets; rather than complying, Walker became verbally combative, yelled that he was " just trying to get home," and " took off running through back yards, tossing stuff as he ran." Officer Adriance gave chase and caught Walker; the items Walker discarded included crack cocaine and a pipe for smoking crack cocaine, which he sought to suppress. After a jury [295 Ga. 889] trial,[2] Walker was convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and obstruction of a law enforcement officer; these convictions were reversed by the Court of Appeals. Further facts may be found in the opinion of the Court of Appeals. Id.

As the Court of Appeals characterized the case on appeal,

Walker contends that he was subjected to an investigatory detention when an officer stopped him as he stepped off the premises of an elementary school and instructed him to remove his hands from his pockets. Walker contends that the officer lacked a particularized and objective basis for suspecting that he was involved in criminal activity, as required for such a stop, and that, in the absence of any reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity, he was entitled to refuse to comply with the officer's demands and to end the encounter by running away from the officer. Because the officer lacked a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity, Walker contends, the detention violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures, and the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress a quantity of cocaine and other drug-related items that were obtained as a result of the illegal detention.

Id. at 558 (1).

The Court of Appeals determined that Officer Adriance lacked articulable suspicion, and in doing so, set forth the following formulation:

Fourth Amendment jurisprudence recognizes three tiers of police-citizen encounters: (1) communication between police and citizens involving no coercion or detention and therefore without the compass of the Fourth Amendment, (2) brief seizures that must be supported by reasonable suspicion, and (3) full-scale arrests that must be supported by probable cause. In the first tier, police officers may approach citizens, ask for identification, and freely question the citizen without any basis or belief that the citizen is involved in criminal activity, as long as the officers do not detain the citizen or create ...

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