Casual Chat, Unobstructed Exit Don't Trigger 4th Amendment

By Robyn Hagan Cain on August 18, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Are bank robberies no longer en vogue? After watching The Town and learning that Charleston, Mass. is allegedly the bank robbery capital of America, we've been looking for cases challenging bank robbery convictions in the First Circuit. We have been disappointed.

If you've been longing for a good bank robbery appeal, like we have, today is your lucky day; the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals just decided a gem of a case.

Traves Rush and Curtis Cotton were at the Community Corrections Center (CCC) in Omaha, Neb., a work detail and work release facility for Nebraska inmates. In a brilliant move, Rush and Cotton left CCC without permission, picked up Marcus Short, and robbed a bank.

The bank robbery commenced at 12:09 in Lincoln, Neb. arguably providing the conscientious Rush and Cotton with enough time to return to CCC for the 1:15 headcount. (Yes, that was actually part of the plan.)

The plan went awry, as plans are wont to do, and, after a quick car change, the trio found themselves casually tailed by police cruisers. When the robbers stopped in a parking lot, one of the cruisers parked behind their vehicle, but did not obstruct their exit.

A police officer emerged from the cruiser and struck up a "normal conversation" with Rush asking, "What they were doing there, where they were headed or where they had come from." Rush responded with blasé responses that conveniently omitted the bank robbery portion of their day.

The jig was up when the officer spotted a roll of cash, ($1942, to be exact), stuck in the top of one of Cotton's shoes. Rush, Cotton, and Short were arrested after a few minutes of vehicular shenanigans and a foot pursuit, and the officers recovered evidence of the robbery from their car. Short and Cotton admitted guilt. A jury convicted Rush of the bank robbery.

Rush appealed to the Eighth Circuit that the evidence from the car should have been suppressed, arguing that the officer seized Rush in violation of his Fourh Amendment protections when the officer struck up that "normal conversation."

Rush claimed that he was not free to ignore the officer's initial questions in the parking lot because the officer had followed the robbers' car for almost two miles, Rush did not have an opportunity to avoid the officer after exiting the car, and the officer asked him a question. Rush also points out that the officer was in uniform, had a marked police cruiser, and had a holstered gun.

The Court, however found that while Rush may have subjectively felt the circumstances compelled him to speak to officer, the law is clear that absent a restraint of liberty, police questioning occurs with the citizen's consent, and does not constitute an investigative stop requiring reasonable suspicion.

So it's bad news today for bank robbers within the jurisdiction of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals: A casual conversation and an unobstructed exit path do not invoke Fourth Amendment protections, no matter how uncomfortable a bank robber feels while chatting with a police officer.

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