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United States v. Smith

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington

April 19, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PLAINTIFF
v.
AARON S. SMITH DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          David L. Bunning United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Suppress all evidence seized from his vehicle during a traffic stop on July 11, 2018. (Doc. # 13). In his Motion, Defendant Smith alleges that police officers lacked probable cause to stop his vehicle and that a subsequent search of his vehicle constituted an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Smith therefore argues that all evidence seized from the stop should be suppressed. Id.

         On March 20, 2019, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on the Motion. (Doc. # 34). Defendant Smith was present at the hearing and represented by attorney F. Dennis Alerding. Id. The United States was represented by Assistant United States Attorney Wade Napier. Id. The hearing was recorded by the Official Court Reporter Lisa Wiesman. Id. Prior to the hearing, the Defendant filed a Memorandum in Support of his Motion to Suppress (Doc. # 17), and the United States filed a Response in Opposition (Doc. # 23). After the hearing, the Court allowed the parties to file supplemental memoranda (Docs. # 38 and 39), and the Motion is now ripe for the Court's review. For the reasons set forth herein, Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Doc. # 13) is denied.

         II. FINDINGS OF FACT

         Three witnesses testified during the March 20, 2019 evidentiary hearing on behalf of the United States: Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent Troey Stout, Kentucky State Police (KSP) Interdiction Sergeant William Lindon, and KSP K-9 Officer Brian Smith. (Doc. # 35). The Defendant recalled Sergeant Lindon to testify but did not call any other witnesses. Weighing the credibility of the witnesses' testimony presented at the evidentiary hearing, the Court makes the following factual findings:

1. At some time in May or June, 2018, the DEA office in Detroit, Michigan advised DEA Agent Troey Stout that Defendant Aaron Smith was suspected of traveling from Michigan to Kentucky to distribute heroin. At the time, Agent Stout worked with an interdiction team in the central Kentucky region staffed by the KSP. The interdiction team was tasked with responding to call-outs from the DEA and other federal agencies. Stout was advised that the Detroit DEA office might need the assistance of the interdiction team based upon the investigation of Defendant's suspected drug-trafficking activity.
2. Agent Stout was further advised that a Michigan court had issued a tracking warrant allowing the DEA to track Defendant's vehicle, a 2002 Toyota 4Runner. The warrant was issued based upon an affidavit attesting that a confidential source (CS) had advised the DEA that Mr. Smith was distributing heroin from Michigan to Kentucky two to three times per month. The CS indicated that the heroin was being transported in Smith's 2002 Toyota 4Runner with Michigan license plates, and that the CS had seen Smith transporting a package of heroin. The CS also reported that after Smith sells the drugs in Kentucky, he takes the drug proceeds to Mexico. The CS provided Defendant's address in addition to identifying the vehicle and its Michigan plates.
3. Agent Stout was advised that the DEA was able to corroborate some of this information through surveillance and other means. More specifically, the DEA confirmed Defendant's address, the identity of the vehicle, and the vehicle's location at the same address. The U.S. Border Patrol also confirmed border crossings involving Mr. Smith, and administrative subpoenas issued to Western Union revealed wire transfers from Mr. Smith to individuals in Mexico. Additionally, through surveillance of the tracker placed on Defendant's vehicle, the DEA observed Defendant make at least three trips to Lexington, Kentucky, from Michigan, by way of Interstate 75.
4. In July 2018, the Detroit DEA office contacted Agent Stout and advised that the tracker revealed the vehicle was traveling south toward Kentucky. On July 11, 2018, Agent Stout gathered the interdiction team and traveled to an interception point in Grant County, Kentucky, to monitor Interstate 75 for Defendant's vehicle. Agent Stout was given access to the tracker data and was able to watch the vehicle as it traveled southbound. Stout guided the interdiction team to Defendant's vehicle.
5. At approximately 9:00 p.m. on that date, the KSP interdiction officers patrolling Interstate 75 observed Defendant's Toyota 4Runner and began to follow it. While following the vehicle for approximately seven miles, KSP Interdiction Sergeant William Lindon and other members of the KSP interdiction team observed the vehicle cross the right-side “fog line” into the shoulder twice within a short distance. Based upon this traffic violation, Lindon initiated a traffic stop.[1]
6. During the stop, Defendant confirmed that the vehicle was registered to him and presented identification matching the name and address provided by the CS. Defendant also told officers that he was traveling to Lexington, Kentucky.
7. Officers requested consent to search the vehicle from the Defendant, who was the driver and only occupant. After some discussion, Defendant did not consent to the search.
8. Sergeant Lindon then called the nearby KSP K-9 Officer Brian Smith to the scene. Officer Smith was assigned to the interdiction team that evening, and it took him approximately four minutes to arrive with his certified narcotics dog. Smith directed the dog to conduct a free-air sniff of the vehicle. Officer Smith testified that the dog is properly certified and is reliable in alerting to the presence of narcotics. Officer Smith further testified that the dog sat down-indicating a positive alert-at the front fender on the passenger side of the vehicle.
9. In order to safely search the vehicle away from interstate traffic, at approximately 9:39 p.m., KSP transported it along with the Defendant to a local mechanic's garage about two miles away.
10. At approximately 11:14 p.m., after several hours of searching the vehicle, officers found a large bag of heroin hidden in a compartment behind the dashboard radio. The officers also seized a silver iPhone and a Samsung cell phone. Defendant was ...

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