United States v. Hernandez, No. 15-1116 (10th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
On October, 20, 2014, at approximately 7:43 p.m., Denver police officers were patrolling West 10th Avenue near its intersection with Mariposa Street in Denver, in a marked police vehicle. It was dark out and the intersection was unlit. The two officers observed defendant-appellee Phillip Hernandez walking next to a fenced construction site. The officers considered this part of town “to be a high-crime area due to its proximity to the Lincoln Park housing project and the frequency of theft and drug dealing occurring therein.” Officer Morghem asked Hernandez where he was coming from and what he was doing, to which Hernandez replied that he was coming from his grandmother’s house and was “just trying to go home.” Officer Morghem pressed Hernandez for his grandmother’s address, but Hernandez could not remember it. Up to this point, the entire conversation took place while Hernandez was walking, with the two officers driving close beside him. Officer Walton noted in the police report he filed the next day that Hernandez “tried not to stop and talk to us.” Hernandez eventually did stop, and the officers were able to talk to him. Hernandez provided his real name but a false birth date. Although Officer Morghem did not have Hernandez’s correct date of birth, he was able to pull up additional information on Hernandez via the in-car computer, finding Hernandez’s mug shot and determined that he had an active warrant for a parole violation. Hernandez was arrested on the active warrant, and ultimately indicted and convicted on one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He filed a motion to suppress the evidence retrieved after his encounter with the officers, claiming the evidence was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court granted the motion. The government appealed, and finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed.