United States v. Hester, No. 16-3570 (3d Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
After seeing an idling car, illegally parked in front of a store known for drug sales, officers waited for the driver to return, then approached the car. The driver admitted not having a driver’s license. Hester, the passenger, stated that he had a license and started to get out of the car. As he moved, an officer heard the familiar thud of a gun hitting the vehicle's floorboards. Another officer, who testified to seeing Hester drop the gun, verbally alerted the others. Hester attempted to run, but was apprehended. Officers near the vehicle confirmed the presence of a gun at the foot of the passenger’s seat. Hester was convicted as a felon in possession of a firearm following the denial of his motion to suppress. The court applied a four-level enhancement to Hester’s Guidelines range under the theory that Hester’s possession itself constituted New Jersey evidence tampering but varied downward to mitigate its effect, and sentenced Hester to 86 months’ imprisonment. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress but held that the application of the evidence tampering sentencing enhancement was erroneous. A traffic stop is a seizure of everyone in the stopped vehicle. Hester had submitted to the officers’ show of authority when he waited in the vehicle with the driver before and during questioning but there was objectively reasonable suspicion to support Hester’s seizure.