Search and Seizure - Collective Knowledge Doctrine

Favorable and Noteworthy Decisions in the Supreme Court and Federal Appellate Courts

United States v. Massenburg, 654 F.3d 480 (4th Cir. 2011)

The police had no basis for frisking the defendant and the evidence obtained from the frisk should have been suppressed. The police drove to the scene where there was a reported shooting. Four men were seen a few blocks away. No evidence linked them to the shooting. They were responsive when the police approached them. They answered the officers’ questions and said that they, too, had heard gunshots. When the police asked for consent to frisk them, two consented, but the defendant declined. This did not provide a basis to conduct a non-consensual frisk. The court also rejected the government’s invitation to rely on the “collective knowledge” doctrine based on testimony at the suppression hearing that another officer, who did not actually conduct the frisk, had seen a bulge in the defendant’s pocket. The collective knowledge doctrine essentially provides that when one officer knows sufficient information to justify an arrest of a target, if he requests that another officer make the arrest, the knowledge of the first officer is attributed to the second officer for purposes of determining whether there was probable cause to support the arrest. The Fourth Circuit held that the collective knowledge doctrine did not apply in this case, because the searching officer had no reason to believe that any other officer had sufficient information to support the search.