United States of America v. Huertas
OPINION, affirm the judgment of the district court, by RKW, DJ, RSP, FILED. [15-4014]
Case 15-4014, Document 63-1, 07/24/2017, 2084206, Page1 of 8
United States v. Huertas
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT
August Term, 2016
(Argued: December 15, 2016
Decided: July 24, 2017)
Docket No. 15-4014
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -x
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
- v. BRANDEN HUERTAS,
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -x
WINTER, JACOBS, and POOLER, Circuit Judges.
Branden Huertas appeals the order of the United States District Court for
the District of Connecticut (Arterton, J.), denying his motion to suppress physical
evidence. Huertas contends that he was seized (after a show of police authority)
when he stood still to answer questions and ran when the police opened the door
of the police-car. Affirmed.
Case 15-4014, Document 63-1, 07/24/2017, 2084206, Page2 of 8
Judge Pooler dissents in a separate opinion.
JENNIFER MELLON, for Terence S. Ward,
Federal Defender, District of Connecticut,
New Haven, CT, for Defendant-Appellant.
ALINA P. REYNOLDS (with Marc H.
Silverman, on the brief), for Deirdre M.
Daly, United States Attorney for the District
of Connecticut, New Haven, CT,
JACOBS, Circuit Judge:
Defendant Branden Huertas appeals the denial of his motion to suppress a
firearm that, he contends, was found as a result of an illegal seizure. After the
United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Arterton, J.) denied
his motion to suppress, Huertas conditionally pleaded guilty to being a felon in
possession of a weapon. He contends he was seized when a police officer in a
squad car, who had been alerted to a man lurking with a gun, shined a spotlight
on Huertas and asked questions to which Huertas responded. We conclude that
because Huertas never submitted to police authority, he was never seized. We
In May 2014, a woman pulled her car alongside a police cruiser in
Bridgeport, Connecticut to ask about the process for amending a police report.1
The following facts are drawn from Officer Lattanzio’s testimony at the
suppression hearing. Huertas submitted an affidavit giving his description of his
interaction with Officer Lattanzio, but both parties agree that the district court’s
order denying the suppression motion was based on Officer Lattanzio’s
testimony. Although Huertas alleges that there are “discrepancies” between
Officer Lattanzio’s testimony, his earlier police report, and Huertas’s affidavit,
Case 15-4014, Document 63-1, 07/24/2017, 2084206, Page3 of 8
After Officer Thomas Lattanzio responded, the woman drove away for a few feet,
then reversed toward the police car and told Officer Lattanzio that a man named
Branden was nearby with a gun. She pointed down the street, but Officer
Lattanzio did not see anyone. Without giving her name, the woman drove away.
Officer Lattanzio then drove in the direction the woman pointed, searching
for an armed man. He soon saw Huertas standing on a street corner holding a
black bag. Officer Lattanzio drove toward Huertas, going the wrong way on the
one-way street. As the cruiser approached, Officer Lattanzio turned on the
cruiser’s spotlight and illuminated Huertas. Through the car’s window, Officer
Lattanzio asked Huertas a few questions, such as “What’s going on?” and “What
happened with the girl?” During Officer Lattanzio’s approach and questioning,
Huertas stayed in a fixed position and began answering the questions. The
encounter lasted between thirty seconds and one minute. As soon as Officer
Lattanzio got out of the cruiser, Huertas ran away.
Other police officers later found and arrested Huertas. A search of
Huertas’s route turned up a bag similar to the one Huertas had been holding.
The bag contained a firearm.
The only question on appeal is whether Huertas was seized. Whether a
seizure would have been in violation of the Fourth Amendment is an issue not
reached by the district court, and is not before us. Because Huertas is appealing a
suppression ruling, “we review factual findings for clear error and we review
questions of law de novo.” United States v. Faux, 828 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 2016).
“A seizure . . . requires ‘either physical force . . . or, where that is absent,
submission to the assertion of [police] authority.’” United States v. Swindle, 407
F.3d 562, 572 (2d Cir. 2005) (emphasis in original) (quoting California v. Hodari
Huertas does not contend that any of the facts relied upon by the district court
were clearly erroneous, which is the relevant standard of review. United States
v. Faux, 828 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 2016).
Case 15-4014, Document 63-1, 07/24/2017, 2084206, Page4 of 8
D., 499 U.S. 621, 626 (1991)). It is undisputed that Officer Lattanzio used no
physical force. Therefore, Huertas was seized only if he (1) “submitted” (2) to an
“assertion of authority.” We conclude that Huertas never “submitted” to Officer
Lattanzio and was therefore never “seized” within the meaning of the Fourth
Amendment. In light of this disposition, we need not consider whether the
spotlighting of Huertas by a police car going the wrong way down a dark street
constituted an “assertion of authority.”
“Whether conduct constitutes submission to police authority will depend
. . . on ‘the totality of the circumstances--the whole picture.’” United States v.
Baldwin, 496 F.3d 215, 219 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting United States v. Cortez, 449
U.S. 411, 417 (1981)). Of particular relevance here, conduct that “amount[s] to
evasion of police authority” is “not submission.” Id. at 219.
Huertas argues that he “submitted” to police authority by standing still as
Officer Lattanzio’s police cruiser approached and by answering Officer
Lattanzio’s questions.2 However, we conclude that Huertas’s behavior was akin
to the evasive actions in Baldwin, which did not constitute submission. The
defendant in Baldwin pulled his car to the side of the road in response to a police
cruiser’s siren and flashing lights. 496 F.3d at 217. Both police officers walked
toward Baldwin’s car and ordered Baldwin to show his hands. Id. When he
refused and just stared at them, the officers drew their weapons and continued to
The dissent states that the district court, having accepted Huertas’s
version of events, assumed that Huertas stopped walking after Officer Lattanzio
approached, in order to answer the police officer’s questions. See United States
v. Huertas, No. 3:14cr141(JBA), 2015 WL 1517403, at *2 (D. Conn. Apr. 1, 2015).
True, the district court stated that its decision would be unchanged “even if”
Huertas had initially been walking. Id. But Huertas concedes that the district
court credited Officer Lattanzio’s testimony, which was clear that Huertas was
standing throughout the encounter. Even Huertas’s brief concedes that he
“remain[ed] in a ‘fixed’ position.” Appellant’s Opening Br. at 17. Consequently,
we need not join issue with the dissent on this point.
Case 15-4014, Document 63-1, 07/24/2017, 2084206, Page5 of 8
approach. Id. As they neared, Baldwin sped off. Id. When Baldwin was
apprehended, weapons and drug paraphernalia were found in his car. Id.
The trial court denied Baldwin’s motion to suppress the physical evidence
on the ground that it was discovered after an illegal seizure. Id. at 217-18. We
affirmed on the ground that the temporary stop did not constitute submission to
police authority. Id. at 218-19. Rather, “Baldwin’s conduct, all circumstances
considered, amounted to evasion of police authority, not submission.” Id. at 219
All circumstances considered, Huertas’s actions were likewise evasive, and
maximized his chance of avoiding arrest. If Huertas had run as soon as he was
illuminated by Officer Lattanzio’s spotlight, he could expect Officer Lattanzio to
give chase. By remaining still and answering questions, Huertas had a chance to
quiet suspicion and hope that Officer Lattanzio would drive away after being
satisfied with answers to his questions. But as soon as Huertas saw Officer
Lattanzio getting out of his car, Huertas ran. Among the significant
circumstances are the brevity of the interaction and the fact that Officer Lattanzio
was never within reach of Huertas and able to physically restrain him. As in
Baldwin, the totality of the circumstances indicate that the defendant was
evading police authority, not submitting to it. Huertas was never seized, and the
evidence was admissible.
Huertas fails to distinguish Baldwin. First, Huertas argues that Baldwin
“gained an advantage by tricking the chasing officers into stopping,” whereas
Huertas gained no advantage from his actions. Appellant’s Opening Br. at 19.
This is incorrect. By answering Officer Lattanzio’s questions and standing still,
Huertas could allay Officer Lattanzio’s suspicion, and induce him to drive away.
Second, Huertas argues that Baldwin “lacked the direct interaction that occurred
in this case.” Id. But Huertas does not explain how the allegedly more “direct”
interaction in this case makes his conduct any less evasive.
Huertas relies in part on Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 249 (2007), which
considered whether a passenger in a vehicle may be “submit[ting]” to police
Case 15-4014, Document 63-1, 07/24/2017, 2084206, Page6 of 8
authority when the driver pulls the car to the side of the road in response to
flashing police lights:
[W]hat may amount to submission depends on what a person was
doing before the show of authority: a fleeing man is not seized until
he is physically overpowered, but one sitting in a chair may submit
to authority by not getting up to run away. . . . [The defendant] had no
effective way to signal submission while the car was still moving on
the roadway, but once it came to a stop he could, and apparently did,
submit by staying inside.
551 U.S. at 262 (italics added). Huertas argues by analogy that he passively
remained in place after a show of authority while the police car approached him.
However, the italicized language suggests that what mattered is that Brendlin let
pass his opportunity to flee. That is the opposite of what Huertas did: he fled as
soon as Officer Lattanzio opened his door and signaled that he was not going
Huertas also relies on two out-of-circuit cases. In United States v. Brodie,
the defendant initially complied with an order to place his hands on a police
cruiser, but then ran when he noticed that the police officer was distracted. 742
F.3d 1058, 1061 (D.C. Cir. 2014). The D.C. Circuit held that Brodie had submitted
to police authority, observing that nothing “in the record suggest[s] that Brodie
had some ulterior purpose in putting his hands on the car, such as a belief that
doing so would facilitate escape.” Id. And indeed, he complied with an order
that considerably impaired his chance of evasion. Not so for Huertas.
Huertas also cites United States v. Camacho, 661 F.3d 718 (1st Cir. 2011), in
which the police drove their cruiser in front of two men, got out, and
immediately began to ask questions. Id. at 722. The First Circuit held that the
defendant had “submitted” as soon as he responded to the police officer’s
questions, “at which point his liberty had been restrained and he was seized
under the Fourth Amendment.” Id. at 726 (alterations and quotation marks
omitted). We doubt that responding to a policeman’s questions, without more,
amounts to submission for purposes of the Fourth Amendment; at least one other
Court of Appeals shares our skepticism. See United States v. Valentine, 232 F.3d
Case 15-4014, Document 63-1, 07/24/2017, 2084206, Page7 of 8
350, 359 (3d Cir. 2000) (“Even if Valentine paused for a few moments and gave
his name, he did not submit in any realistic sense . . . .”). In any event, we are not
bound by the First Circuit’s holding, and we conclude that our own precedent of
Baldwin controls this case.3
The dissent argues that the majority widens or transcends the principle of
Baldwin. However, Baldwin did not establish a bright-line test for what
constitutes seizure. Baldwin, like every other case concerning Fourth
Amendment seizures, looked at all the factual circumstances to determine
whether there was “submission” to the police before concluding that the
defendant was trying to evade rather than submit. Baldwin, 496 F.3d at 219. So
The dissent discards reliance on the totality of circumstances, and proposes
a per se rule: when, in response to a question by a police officer, a suspect does
“nearly anything” more than a brief pause, the suspect has “submitted” to police
authority within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Dissent at 4. Under the
dissent’s approach, a suspect would be deemed to have submitted to police
After oral argument in this case, the Tenth Circuit decided United States
v. Hernandez, 847 F.3d 1257 (10th Cir. 2017), a case that Huertas contends
supports his position that he was “seized” when he stayed put to answer Officer
Lattanzio’s questions. The Tenth Circuit ruled that Hernandez had been seized
when he stopped walking and answered questions posed by police. Id. at 126465. But the Tenth Circuit considered many factors, including the fact that
Hernandez complied with an officer’s explicit request that he stop walking and
talk to him. Id. at 1261, 1264-65. Hernandez is easily distinguishable, not least
because Hernandez stopped walking only after he was told to stop walking by
police that had been following him in an intimidating manner. The dissent also
cites an earlier Tenth Circuit decision (not cited in Huertas’s brief) that found that
a defendant had been “seized” in circumstances similar to Hernandez. See
United States v. Morgan, 935 F.2d 1561 (10th Cir. 1991). Our circuit has explicitly
rejected the reasoning in Morgan. See Baldwin, 496 F.3d at 218-19.
Case 15-4014, Document 63-1, 07/24/2017, 2084206, Page8 of 8
authority by answering a police officer’s questions from the other side of a high
fence, even if the suspect ran as soon as the cop moved to scale it.
As it happens, this case is a close analogue to Baldwin. In Baldwin, the
defendant was pulled over by a police cruiser, and took off when both officers in
the cruiser got out and were approaching on foot. 496 F.3d at 217. In this case,
the defendant stayed put until he saw the sole officer in the cruiser start to open
the door. The dissent seems to think that the Baldwin precedent depends on a
plan or design to flee that is formed before the defendant feints at submission.
But suspects often act on opportunity and impulse rather than calculation. In any
event, Baldwin could not have known that both officers would get out of the
cruiser to approach, and thereby offer the opportunity to step on the gas without
This case is factually close to Baldwin, and the principle of Baldwin is not
fact-limited. Subject to the specific circumstances of each case, submission is
questionable when a suspect remains out of reach and takes flight when police
move to lay hands on him.
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the judgment of the district court.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?