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United States v. Leslie

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

April 11, 2019




         Defendant David Mason Leslie, Jr., has been charged in a superseding indictment (Doc. 36) with one count of drug conspiracy, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(B)(vii), and one count of interstate travel and transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1952(a)(3) and (a)(3)(A). Before the Court is Leslie's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 36), which centers around a traffic stop that occurred on July 30, 2018, in Omaha, Nebraska. In his Motion, Leslie requests an order suppressing all evidence seized from his person, the vehicle he was driving, and the trailer he was towing on that date.

         On April 5, 2019, the Court held a hearing on the Motion and admitted Plaintiff's Exhibits (PX) 1 through 10, including dashcam video from the date in question (PX 3). The Court also heard testimony from Deputy Eric Olson of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office in Omaha, Nebraska.

         I. Statement of Facts

         Upon careful consideration of the in-court testimony and the admitted exhibits, the Court makes the following statement of facts.[1]

         Early in the morning on July 30, 2018, Deputy Eric Olson was parked along eastbound I-80 in Omaha, Nebraska. Deputy Olson is part of the criminal interdiction unit of the Douglas County Sheriff's Department in Omaha. Olson is also a K-9 handler, and his assigned K-9, Fletch, was with him at the time.

         At around 5:30 a.m., Deputy Olson observed and decided to follow a large SUV with a Pennsylvania license plate towing a U-Haul trailer with an Indiana plate. As Olson caught up to the SUV, the SUV changed lanes and slowed significantly to below the minimum speed limit of 40 mph. Olson also noticed that the U-Haul trailer had an oversized, heavy-duty “smuggler's lock” on it. Olson continued to follow the vehicle as it exited I-80 onto I-680 northbound and then exited I-680 toward West Center Road. While on the off-ramp toward West Center Road, Olson observed that Leslie was exceeding the 55-mph speed limit.

         Olson continued to follow Leslie for several more minutes before pulling him over. Olson then approached the vehicle and confirmed that there was very little in the rear cargo area of the SUV-only a midsized suitcase and a couple of other small bags or other items. Upon reaching the driver's window, Olson immediately asked for Leslie's driver's license and informed him of the observed traffic violation. While Olson reviewed the driver's license, he asked questions about Leslie's destination and occupation. Leslie stated that he was headed to a friend's house in Omaha and that he was a truck driver.

         At that point, Olson asked Leslie for the rental agreement for the SUV. He also asked Leslie where he was coming from, to which Leslie gave an evasive, incomplete answer: “Coming from…coming from….” Instead of finishing the sentence, Leslie handed Olson a piece of paper, which may have been a hotel receipt, to show that he was coming from Reno, Nevada.

         Once Leslie produced the SUV rental agreement, Olson asked several more questions while reviewing it, including why Leslie had rented the SUV in Oklahoma and why, if Leslie was a commercial truck driver, he was not driving the commercial truck at the time. Olson explained that he was going to pick up his truck in Minnesota after retrieving his friend in Omaha. Olson also asked Leslie if he had ever been arrested for anything, and Leslie stated that he had not.

         Next, Olson asked to see the rental agreement for the trailer. It ultimately took Leslie about five minutes to locate the trailer rental agreement. During that time, Olson continued to question Leslie. He asked more about Leslie's itinerary, his time in Nevada, and the contents of the trailer. At one point, Leslie asked to get out of his vehicle in order to check for the trailer rental agreement in the trunk. While Leslie continued to search, Olson asked more questions. When Olson asked Leslie where his friend lived in Omaha, Leslie balked, telling Olson that he felt like he was being interrogated and that he was “ex-military” and “ex-law enforcement.” When asked about what he was hauling in the trailer, Leslie stated that it held some clothes and cabinets.

         Once Leslie finally located the agreement, Olson and Leslie discussed the fact that Leslie was returning the trailer in St. Paul, Minnesota. Leslie explained that he was taking his and his friend's belongings to Leslie's commercial truck in St. Paul. According to Leslie, he and his friend were then going on a two-week vacation.

         At this point, Olson walked back to his patrol car and made a call to run a records check on Leslie using the license and paperwork Leslie had given him. After a few minutes, Olson got back out of the patrol car and approached Leslie with a second officer who had shown up at the scene. Olson questioned Leslie again about whether he had any prior arrests and pointed out that Leslie was arrested for narcotics in 1988. Olson then informed Leslie that he was giving him a warning for the traffic infraction but that he was going to do a dog sniff around the SUV and trailer. Leslie stated that he did not give consent.

         Olson then retrieved his K-9, Fletch, and conducted a dog sniff. After Fletch indicated to the trailer, Olson took the key to the trailer and opened it, finding a significant amount of marijuana inside. Leslie was then put in handcuffs and told to remain in the patrol car.

         II. Relevant Law

         When a law enforcement officer performs an investigative detention of a person, it is referred to as a Terry stop. See United States v. Hernandez, 847 F.3d 1257, 1267-68 (10th Cir. 2017) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21 (1968)). “Because a Terry stop is less intrusive than an arrest, the suspicion required to make such a stop is less demanding than what is required for an arrest.” Id. at 1268. Still, such a stop is only permissible when an officer has “specific and articulable facts and rational inferences drawn from those facts” that give rise to a reasonable suspicion that a person is involved in criminal activity. Id.

         “A valid traffic stop must be based on an observed traffic violation or a reasonable articulable suspicion that a traffic or equipment violation has occurred or is occurring.” United States v. Cline, 349 F.3d 1276, 1286 (10th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing United States v. Callarman, 273 F.3d 1284, 1286 (10th Cir. 2001)). The fact that an officer may have other motivations for stopping a person is irrelevant. Id. (citing Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 813 (1996)). Nevertheless, the scope of an investigative detention “must be carefully tailored to its underlying justification.” Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 500 (1983). “A seizure justified only by a police-observed traffic violation, therefore, ‘become[s] unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete th[e] mission” of issuing a ticket for the violation.” Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1612 (2015) (quoting Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405, 407 (2005)). While an officer's “mission” typically includes inquiries such as checking the ...

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