CA4: Avoid “divide-and-conquer” reasoning on RS and PC

The record doesn’t definitively support the district court’s conclusion that the government proved forfeitability of the cash. The record was enough in dispute that there needed to be a trial on the merits. United States v. McClellan, 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 22128 (4th Cir. Aug. 10, 2022). As to the “divide-and-conquer” reasoning of the district court, the Fourth Circuit reminds us to avoid it:

Indeed, we may not take each of these facts on its own. To do so is to engage in divide-and-conquer reasoning, whereby courts second-guess each piece of evidence individually without engaging with the aggregate effect of that evidence. This is an all-too-common approach when the record as a whole does not support a particular result. It is easy enough, after all, to nitpick individual facts. The methodology is most common in the Fourth Amendment context, where the Supreme Court has repeatedly admonished courts for employing it. See District of Columbia v. Wesby, 138 S. Ct. 577, 589, 199 L. Ed. 2d 453 (2018) (stating that, in evaluating probable cause for an arrest, “[t]he panel majority identified innocent explanations for most of these circumstances in isolation, but again, this kind of divide-and-conquer approach is improper”); United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 274, 122 S. Ct. 744, 151 L. Ed. 2d 740 (2002) (stating that “Terry … precludes this sort of divide-and-conquer analysis” in evaluating reasonable suspicion for a stop). But divide-and-conquer reasoning recurs from time to time in all different areas of our law and courts across these different domains have concluded that the approach is improper. …

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