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United States v. Shelton

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

December 16, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Plaintiff
v.
AARON SHELTON Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          REBECCA GRADY JENNINGS, DISTRICT JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant, Aaron Shelton's (“Shelton”), Motion to Suppress Evidence (“Motion to Suppress” or “Motion”). [DE 43]. The Court held an evidentiary hearing. [DE 46]. Post-hearing briefs were filed. [DE 57, 58]. This matter is now ripe. For the reasons below, the Court DENIES the Motion to Suppress. [DE 43].

         BACKGROUND

         This matter stems from a Terry stop and search of Shelton's vehicle. Shelton challenges the constitutionality of the stop and search of his vehicle as well as the voluntariness of his waiver of Miranda rights. Late in the evening on February 1, 2019 or early the following morning, police began investigating the death of an apparent overdose victim. [DE 49, Transcript of Suppression Hearing, dated Aug. 19, 2019 (“Tr.”) at 239:10-15; 287:23-88:7]. During the investigation, police uncovered a phone No. they believed belonged to the person who sold heroin to the victim. [Id. at 239:10-15; 242:7-9]. Using a cooperating witness, police set up a controlled buy with the person operating the phone, who they believed to be Shelton, to take place the evening of February 2, 2019. [Id. at 243:8-44:14]. Before the controlled buy, officers determined that Shelton was the owner of a silver 2009 Pontiac G8. [Id. at 242:7-15].

         Law enforcement set up surveillance at the meet location and observed a silver Pontiac G8 circling the area and pass by the gas station where the meet was to occur at an abnormally slow speed. [Id. at 244:1-7]. The cooperating witness then received instructions from the phone No. believed to be linked to Shelton stating that Shelton was sending another individual to the meet location wearing a hoodie. [Id. at 244:8-23]. Once the cooperating witness arrived at the gas station, officers observed a man in a hoodie, later identified as Shelton's co-defendant Tajuan McDowell (“McDowell”), approach the gas station. [Id. at 244:18-245:2]. Officers came up to the gas station, and McDowell briefly tried to flee. Officers tackled McDowell and placed him under arrest. [Id. at 245:3-9]. Officers observed McDowell make a throwing motion while trying to flee and officers found three bindles of suspected heroin about eight to ten feet from where McDowell was tackled. [Id. at 245:10-14].

         After his arrest, McDowell stated that an individual named “Aaron” sent him to the gas station to complete the transaction and that Aaron “was a black male with a gold chain and suggested that he could be found in the apartments in a silver Pontiac G8.” [Id. at 245:15-25]. An officer at the scene relayed that information over the radio. [Id. at 246:4-10]. Another officer, Officer Gadegaard, located a silver Pontiac in a nearby apartment complex. [Id. at 262:20-63:5]. As Officer Gadegaard approached the vehicle in his car, the silver Pontiac G8 pulled out from its parking spot onto the street. [Id. at 263:21-24]. Officer Gadegaard testified that it appeared to him that the vehicle was “trying to evade [him]” because the car turned quickly and increased speed when he pulled behind the Pontiac G8. [Id. at 264:1-9]. Officer Gadegaard then initiated a stop by turning on his car's lights and sirens. [Id.]. Officer Gadegaard's car was then struck by Shelton's car. [Id.]. Officers removed Shelton from the vehicle and placed in handcuffs. Officers found a small quantity of marijuana and a lighter on Shelton's person. [Id. at 276:19-21]. Officers observed a “quantity of currency and several cell phones in plain view on the floorboard of the car.” [Id. at 275:14-16]. Within minutes of the stop, a canine was brought to the scene and alerted on the exterior of the vehicle. [Id. at 277:15-20; 284:7-15]. Officers then searched the car and recovered the cellphones and large amount of U.S. currency. [Id. at 277:15-20].

         At the scene, officers advised Shelton of his Miranda rights. [Id. at 277:6-12]. Shelton was taken to the DEA for an interview. [Id. at 280:3-4]. He was provided a written copy of his Miranda rights, and a DEA agent explained those rights to him. [Id. at 280:8-11]. Shelton made several statements, and then invoked his right to counsel. [Id. at 280:14-82:4]. After Shelton invoked his right to counsel, questioning ceased. [Id.].

         DISCUSSION

         “It is well settled that in seeking suppression of evidence the burden of proof is upon the defendant to display a violation of some constitutional or statutory right justifying suppression.” United States v. Rodriquez-Suazo, 346 F.3d 637, 643 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting United States v. Feldman, 606 F.2d 673, 679 n.11 (6th Cir. 1979)). The defendant's burden extends to both “the burden of production and persuasion.” United States v. Patel, 579 Fed.Appx. 449, 453 (6th Cir. 2014).

         Shelton moves to suppress all statements and evidence obtained from the February 2, 2019 stop and search of his vehicle arguing that the officers lacked probable cause to conduct the traffic stop. [DE 57 at 338-39]. Shelton also argues that even if the officers had probable cause to stop the vehicle, they did not have probable cause to search the vehicle. [Id.]. Finally, Shelton argues that even if the stop was proper, the officers impermissibly questioned Shelton in violation of his Miranda rights. [Id. at 339-40].

         A. Officers had reasonable suspicion to stop Shelton[1].

         “The police are permitted ‘to stop a person when the officer has reasonable, articulable suspicion that the person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity.'” United States v. Slater, 209 Fed.Appx. 489, 495 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting United States v. Hensley, 469 U.S. 221, 227 (1985)). To show reasonable, articulable suspicion the officer must point to “specific and articulable facts, which taken together with rational inferences from those facts, ” reasonably suggest than criminal activity has occurred or is imminent. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21 (1968). Reasonable suspicion cannot be based on “inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or ‘hunch,' but [on] the specific reasonable inferences which he is entitled to draw from the facts in light of his experience.” Id. at 27. In evaluating whether an officer had reasonable suspicion, courts look at the “totality of the circumstances” and consider “all of the information available to law enforcement officials at the time.” United States v. Urrieta, 520 F.3d 569, 573 (6th Cir. 2008).

         Shelton argues that officers lacked reasonable suspicion because the only information officers had were three-year-old phone records linking Shelton to the phone used to set up the controlled buy. [DE 57 at 338-39]. He also argues that the suspicion about Shelton should have dissipated when officers arrested McDowell because “they had the man actually conducting the narcotics transaction in custody.” [Id. at 339]. First, shortly before the controlled buy took place the cooperating witness received instructions that Shelton would be sending another individual to the gas station to conduct the transaction. [Tr. at 244:8-23]. Based on this instruction, officers could reasonably believe that there were at least two individuals involved in the narcotics transaction, and their continued suspicion about Shelton was warranted. Second, officers had far more information than just the phone No. connecting Shelton to the controlled buy.

         Here, while the cell phone records connecting Shelton to the phone No. may be three-years-old, officers obtained other, more recent information connecting Shelton to the controlled buy. For example, the officers observed the same color and model of car Shelton owned circling the area of the meet location in a suspicious manner. Officers also obtained information from McDowell at the scene of the controlled buy, which supported reasonable suspicion that Shelton was engaged in criminal activity. McDowell stated that “Aaron” was the one who sent him to the gas station and “he could be found in the apartments in a silver Pontiac G8.” [Tr. at 245:18-25]. The description provided by McDowell, which specified where Shelton was, and corroborated other information known by the officers, such as the model and color of Shelton's car, supported reasonable, articulable suspicion that Shelton was involved in the narcotics transaction. See, e.g., United States v. Schaafsma,318 F.3d 718, 722 (7th Cir. 2003) (finding that where an individual involved in a drug sale stated that another person was involved and indicated that he was in a car in a nearby parking lot there was probable cause to arrest defendant when officers observed a car in that parking lot trying to leave upon informant's arrest); see also Neal v. Melton,453 Fed.Appx. 572, 579 (6th Cir. 2011) (finding that Terry stop was proper when the reasonable suspicion was ...


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