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USA v. Ralph Wesley Riley, 06-2557.  Ralph Wesley Riley pleaded guilty to two counts of bank fraud and eleven counts of attempted bank fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344, and to one count of theft of mail, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1708; in his plea agreement, however, he reserved the right to appeal the district court’s ruling on his motion to suppress evidence. In this court, Mr. Riley renews his arguments with respect to his motion to suppress and also challenges aspects of his sentence.

On the morning of July 23, 2004, Detective Pablo Reyna of the Moline, Illinois Police Department received a report of suspicious activity at the I.H. Mississippi Valley Credit Union involving two white males and two black males, all wearing baggy shorts.  Approximately one hour after the call, Detective Reyna drove through the parking lot at the Blackhawk State Bank.

Detective Reyna continued past the bank, and, in his rear view mirror, observed a man in business dress, later identified as Mr. Riley, exiting the bank. Mr. Riley was carrying something in his hands that Detective Reyna could not see clearly. Mr. Riley walked at a brisk pace to the green Lincoln and entered the passenger side of the car; the Lincoln then pulled away, and Detective Reyna followed.

After about ten blocks, the Lincoln pulled into a gas station. The car was at the station for less than a minute, during which time the driver and the passenger switched places. Detective Reyna continued to follow the Lincoln after it left the gas station. Detective Reyna also called Detective Jeff Heist to inform Detective Heist that he was following a suspicious car; specifically, Detective Reyna told Detective Heist that he believed that the individuals in the car had been involved in a bank robbery.

While the Lincoln still was stopped at the light, Detective Reyna pulled behind the car in his unmarked vehicle and turned on his emergency lights. He approached the driver’s side of the car. Detective Reyna then showed his identification and asked to see the driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance; Detective Reyna noted that the insurance was expired. After these documents were produced, Mr. Riley inquired why he had been stopped; Detective Reyna responded that he was investigating a possible crime and asked Mr. Riley if he had robbed the Blackhawk State Bank. Mr. Riley responded that he had not. Mr. Riley further explained that he had been to the bank on business, that he was interested in buying a building in which he desired to open a restaurant, but that the bank was too busy at the time so he had left without transacting any business.

At that point, Detective Reyna asked for permission to search the car. Mr. Riley politely refused.  After consulting with another detective on scene, Detective Reyna decided to place the driver under arrest for operating a vehicle without insurance and to place the passenger under arrest for operating a vehicle without a license.

After arresting Mr. Riley and the car’s passenger, Detective Reyna searched the front compartment of the car. Items uncovered during the search included eleven personal checks made payable to individuals other than Mr. Riley, his alias or his passenger, a black planner and a notebook with the names and addresses of five local banks written in it. At the time of the arrest, Mr. Riley possessed $1,956.95 in cash.

Mr. Riley first challenges the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress. We review a district court’s legal conclusions on a motion to suppress, including the question whether reasonable suspicion existed to justify a stop, de novo. United States v. Lenoir, 318 F.3d 725, 728 (7th Cir. 2003). The district court’s underlying findings of fact, however, are reviewed for clear error. Id.

“[A] brief investigatory stop that demands only a limited intrusion into an individual’s privacy is permitted under the Constitution when it is based upon ‘specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts reasonably warrant that intrusion.’ “ United States v. Baskin, 401 F.3d 788, 791 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21 (1968)). Officers, therefore, “may conduct an investigatory stop of a person when they have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.” United States v. Lawshea, 461 F.3d 857, 859 (7th Cir. 2006). “Reasonable suspicion amounts to something less than probable cause but more than a hunch.” Baskin, 401 F.3d at 791.

“When determining whether an officer had reasonable suspicion, courts examine the totality of the circumstances known to the officer at the time of the stop, including the experience of the officer and the behavior and characteristics of the suspect.” Lawshea, 461 F.3d at 859. “Ultimately, a court’s determination of reasonable suspicion ‘must be based on common-sensical judgments and inferences about human behavior.’ ” Baskin, 401 F.3d at 791 (quoting Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 125 (2000)).

Given these standards, we believe that Detective Reyna had a reasonable, articulable suspicion to justify the stop of Mr. Riley’s car.

Detective Reyna testified that, in his experience investigating bank robberies, it was common for perpetrators to park in lots close to banks, but not in the bank parking lots. Furthermore, the fact that the Lincoln was backed into the parking space and that the driver was focused on the bank indicated to him that the Lincoln was a “getaway” car.

Case law from this court notes similar behavior by individuals involved in criminal activity at banking institutions. See, e.g., United States v. Jocic, 207 F.3d 889, 890 (7th Cir. 2000) (“Upon leaving the bank, Bradach entered the passenger side of his black Jeep Cherokee, which was being driven by Jocic. The jeep was backed into a parking space facing an alley about 115 feet from the doors of the bank . . . . Once Bradach got in, the jeep immediately took off through the alley.”); United States v. Arrington, 159 F.3d 1069, 1071 (7th Cir. 1998) (noting that, with respect to two different robberies, a “black Blazer (or Jimmy) [had been] backed into a parking space in the parking lot near the bank”).

Although, as noted by the district court, all of these taken separately might not justify a stop, we do not evaluate the circumstances in isolation. See Lawshea, 461 F.3d at 859 (“[W]e recognize that certain behavior in isolation may have an innocent explanation yet that same behavior may give rise to reasonable suspicion when viewed in the context of other factors at play.”).

Furthermore, these circumstances must be viewed through the lens of Detective Reyna, an experienced officer. The Supreme Court has explained that, in determining whether particular circumstances rise to the level of a reasonable suspicion, courts must take into “consideration . . . the modes or patterns of operations of certain kinds of lawbreakers,” which allow “trained officer[s] [to] draw[ ] inferences and make[ ] deductions . . . that might well elude an untrained person.” United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 419 (1981).

Taken together, all of these circumstances, when observed by an officer familiar with individuals involved in robbery and fraud, would lead a reasonable officer to suspect that the individuals traveling in the Lincoln had engaged in criminal activity in the bank, and, therefore, a short detention of the parties for further inquiry was justified.


For the full opinions visit the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Web Site.

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