United States v. Greene, No. 18-2923 (3d Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Greene and his girlfriend, Manley, traveling in a van without its lights on, were stopped by Hanover Township Officer Stefanowicz. Manley was driving, but was unable to produce a driver’s license, vehicle registration, or proof of insurance. She gave Stefanowicz a rental car agreement in the name of Hurtudo-Moreno that listed no other authorized drivers. Stefanowicz smelled unburnt marijuana emanating from the vehicle. Greene was “repeatedly seeking to leave... and reaching for his waistband.” Stefanowicz executed a “Terry” pat-down, and felt a bulge, the seal of a plastic baggie, and the texture of its contents. Stefanowicz immediately recognized the bag as marijuana and placed Greene under arrest. Stefanowicz searched the van and found bullets in the glove box and in Manley’s purse. Walking to the squad car, Greene was bending over and walking in unusual ways. Another officer searched Greene further and located a loaded, stolen handgun in his groin area. The police arrested Manley. Greene expressed concern for Manley and volunteered that he would “take the hit” for the gun.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his suppression motions and his conviction (18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1)). Stefanowicz’s response to Greene's question about the charges Manley faced did not constitute the functional equivalent of interrogation. Greene asked for the information; his response was unforeseeable. Stefanowicz’s answer was brief, accurate, and unrelated to the gun and bullets. Greene was not “emotionally upset or overwrought.” The “plain-feel doctrine” permits an officer to seize an object when, given his training and experience, he develops probable cause to believe it is contraband by the time he concludes it is not a weapon and “in a manner consistent with a routine frisk.”