Fourth Circuit’s Pro-Defendant Ruling: US v. Massenburg

The Fourth Circuit has long been among the most conservative, pro-Government, anti-defendant circuits in the country. That may be slowly changing, however, with the appointment of progressive judges like Andre Davis.
In a recent opinion, in US v. Massenburg, Judge Davis wrote for a panel that reversed a trial court’s denial of a suppression motion. The Fourth Circuit held that the knowledge of one police officer could not be imputed to another officer when the second officer was making an arrest.
Massenburg was searched by a police officer and found to have been in possession of a gun. The Government argued that probable cause existed for the search because another officer had seen a bulge in the suspect’s pocket. However, the officer who saw the bulge never conveyed that information to the officer who conducted the search (and who eventually found the gun). The district court ruled that the information regarding the bulge could be imputed to the arresting officer — even though the arresting officer had no clue about the bulge.
The Fourth Circuit opinion rejected this logic, saying it was only the knowledge of the arresting officer that mattered for purposes of establishing probable cause. This ruling went against other circuits, and seems ripe for Supreme Court consideration.
Although this case applies only in very limited circumstances, it is a good sign that the Fourth Circuit is becoming more even-handed in how it considers suppression issues related to criminal defendants. Kudos to Judge Davis!
(For the sake of full disclosure, I clerked for Judge Davis at the District Court of Maryland).