Category: search warrant

Search warrant needed before searching cell phone contents

The Minnesota Court of Appeals finds that we do have an expectation of privacy for the contents of our cell phones.  This requires law enforcement to obtain a search warrant before looking at our cell phone’s contents.

Click here to read the case in its entirety.

State v Barajas (Minnesota Court of Appeals, 07-23-2012, A11-0983, Clay Co)

The Police went to a vacant apartment and found Defendant trespassing on the property.  After search, Police found methamphetamine in the apartment, a cell phone on the kitchen counter and two cell phones on the defendant’s person.   Police took the cell phones and looked at the photographs on the cell phone without first obtaining a search warrant.  After finding the photographs, law enforcement then decided to seek a signed consent to search, a waiver of the search warrant requirement.

At the trial, the prosecution was allowed to introduce photographs taken from the cell phones.  The photographs showed defendant with a lot of money. Defendant was convicted and sent to prison for First Degree possession with intent to sell.

Defendant appealed the decision.  The Court of Appeals decided that Defendant has an expectation of privacy in the contents of the phone.   This does not end the analysis as to whether a search warrant is required.  The Court then considers whether that expectation of privacy is recognized as reasonable by society. The Court analyzes that while the Defendant did not have an expectation of privacy as to himself since he was a trespasser, he still had an expectation of privacy in the concealed contents of the phone.  In other words, the discovery of the telephones does not need a search warrant, but in order to look at the telephone’s contents, a warrant is required.  The Court says a cell phone that conceals its contents is consistent with constitutionally protected containers. Therefore, the police were required to get a search warrant to get the photographs.

The Court then discussed the Consent to search element.  Consent to search is an exception to the warrant requirement. The State argued and the trial court found that the unlawful search of the telephone without a warrant was cured by the consent the Defendant signed. The Appellate court disagreed with the trial court and found that the consent was not freely and voluntarily given in these circumstances.

This is all great news for making the sure the government does not invade our privacy without their actions being reviewed and not allowing the government to violate our 4th amendment Rights.  However, it was not enough for Defendant Barajas to have his conviction overturned, as the Court found there was enough other evidence to convict him.

 

Marijuana grow using electricity from the grid results in thermal imaging search and a Federal conviction

In 2001, the United States Supreme Court decided Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001). In this case, the Court ruled that a search warrant is needed before the government can use thermal imaging to see inside our homes. Apparently, Mr. McIntyre, in the case below, must have thought that meant they can not ever use thermal imaging to look inside our homes. In this case, increased electricity use led to probable cause to grant a Search Warrant allowing for the use of thermal imaging. Perhaps Mr. McIntyre should have used solar panels to generate his electricity?

United States Court of Appeals
FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT___________No. 10-3111
___________
United States of America,
Appellee, Appeal from the United States
v. District Court for the District of Nebraska.
David McIntyre,
Appellant.
___________
Submitted: March 18, 2011
Filed: July 27, 2011
___________
Before SMITH, BRIGHT, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.
___________
SMITH, Circuit Judge.

David McIntyre conditionally pleaded guilty to knowingly and intentionally manufacturing and attempting to manufacture 100 or more marijuana plants, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a) and 841(b)(1), reserving the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress. On appeal, McIntyre argues that the district court erroneously failed to suppress (1) a county attorney subpoena, (2) thermal imaging search warrants, and (3) a search warrant of his residence. We affirm.

I.
Background On December 8, 2008, Nebraska State Patrol (NSP) Investigator Jason Sears and Nebraska State Trooper Lueders contacted McIntyre outside of his residence in Fremont, Nebraska, investigating a missing-person case. McIntyre had purchased from a person of interest in that case a trailer, which might have been used to dispose of a vehicle. Investigator Sears questioned McIntyre about the trailer, and McIntyre invited the officers into his residence while he looked for the trailer’s title. As Investigator Sears walked by the vehicle parked in the driveway, he noticed a pen tube in the ashtray, which he thought was a “tooter” used to ingest controlled substances.

While inside the residence, Investigator Sears smelled a strong odor of raw marijuana, resulting in symptoms that he described as an allergic reaction to the odor. Investigator Sears also noted that McIntyre was visibly nervous when talking about the trailer, and McIntyre’s hands shook as he handed the trailer title papers to Investigator Sears. McIntyre said that the trailer was loaded with wood and was either at his cabin in Crofton, Nebraska, or at Mark Narke’s residence. McIntyre stated that he only visited his cabin one
or two weekends per month. McIntyre called Narke and told him to take the trailer to Narke’s residence in Santee, Nebraska, and unload the wood. He told Narke to have the trailer at the residence before NSP officers arrived.
Inspector Sears overheard the telephone conversation between McIntyre and Narke. Later that day, Investigator Sears and Trooper Lueders drove to Narke’s residence and inspected the trailer. It was empty. Narke declared his ignorance of anything being loaded on the trailer. With Narke’s permission, the officers inspected the trailer and the buildings on the property and found nothing unusual.

On January 9, 2009, at 7:00 a.m., Investigator Sears and Cedar County Sheriff Larry Koranda drove past McIntyre’s Crofton residence to determine whether there was a garage at the residence, and, if so, whether the garage could hold a pickup truck—an object in the missing-person investigation. They saw an Oldsmobile backed up to a garage door. When they returned to
the residence at 1:00 p.m., the Oldsmobile was gone. The officers viewed the garage. Investigator Sears noticed a hanging shingle on the garage, a small hose protruding from under the garage door, and a strong odor of raw marijuana near the garage. Again, the odor of the marijuana caused
Investigator Sears to suffer symptoms that he described as an allergic reaction.

Subsequently, Investigator Sears retrieved McIntyre’s arrest record and found two prior drug-related arrests from 1981 and 2003. Based upon the smell of raw marijuana and McIntyre’s criminal history, Investigator Sears decided to obtain and examine McIntyre’s electricity usage records. He called the Cedar-Knox Public Power District and asked General Manager Daniel Leise for the electricity usage records for the Crofton residence. Leise informed Investigator Sears that he needed a subpoena to obtain the records. NSP Investigator Douglas Kelley contacted the Knox County Attorney and obtained a county attorney’s subpoena for electricity usage records for the Crofton residence. After Investigator Sears presented Leise with the subpoena, Leise gave Investigator Sears a single sheet of electrical usage for the past three years. The document showed a huge spike in electrical usage for November 2008. This apparent spike, however, was later shown to be inaccurate because the reported number actually reflected usage for November and December 2008. Leise told Investigator Sears that the usage seemed higher than that of neighboring properties and informed Investigator Sears that if further records were needed, Leise could obtain them. Investigator Sears made no further requests. On January 14, 2009, Investigator Kelley applied for a thermal imaging warrant for the Crofton residence and submitted an affidavit in support of the warrant. In the search-warrant affidavit, Investigator Kelley cited Investigator Sears’s allergic reaction to the smell of raw marijuana at both of McIntyre’s residences, McIntyre’s drug arrest history, the electrical usage record, the “tooter” observed in McIntyre’s truck at the Fremont residence, and information about the use of thermal imaging in locating marijuana-growing operations.

A Knox County judge issued the thermal imaging warrant the same day. That evening, Investigator Kelley executed the warrant. The warrant was returned to the court with a recording of thermal imagery showing more electrical usage in the garage than in the living areas of the Crofton residence.

On January 15, 2009, Investigator Kelley sought and obtained a second thermal imaging warrant for the Crofton residence. According to Investigator Kelley, he obtained the second warrant to compare readings from other residences in the area. Investigator Kelley testified that he told the issuing Knox County judge that he intended to obtain information from nearby homes for comparison purposes but did not include that information in the affidavit. This warrant was executed and returned with a recording of thermal imagery showing that greater heat was generated in the living areas in the neighboring residences than their accompanying garages.

Based on the information set forth in the thermal imaging search-warrant affidavits and the thermal imagery obtained as a result of the warrants, on January 16, 2009, Investigator Kelley sought and obtained a search warrant for the Crofton residence. In executing the warrant, officers discovered a marijuana-growing operation and seized it. That same day, a search warrant was also issued for McIntyre’s Fremont residence, but officers found no evidence of illegality.

II.
Discussion On appeal, McIntyre asserts that the district court erred by not suppressing (1) the county attorney subpoena, (2) thermal imaging search warrants, and (3) a search warrant of his Crofton residence.
“On appeal of a motion to suppress, we review the district court’s legal
conclusions de novo and factual findings for clear error.” United States v. Frasher,632 F.3d 450, 453 (8th Cir. 2011).
A.
County Attorney Subpoena McIntyre argues that the district court erred in not suppressing the subpoena duces tecum by which the NSP received electricity usage records for the Crofton residence. According to McIntyre, he had an expectation of privacy in those records because they contained intimate details about the interior of his home. Consequent, he maintains that investigators should have obtained these records via a search warrant. Additionally, McIntyre contends that he has a state statutorily-protected
privacy interest in the electrical usage at his residence.
1.
Reasonable Expectation of Privacy “The touchstone of Fourth Amendmen
t analysis is whether a person has a constitutionally protected reasonable expectation of privacy.” California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207, 211 (1986) (quotation and citation omitted). The Supreme Court has held repeatedly that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the obtaining of information revealed to a third party and conveyed by him to Government authorities, even if the information is revealed on the assumption that it will be used only for a limited purpose and the confidence placed in the third party will not be betrayed. United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435, 443 (1976) (holding that bank depositor has nolegitimate expectation of privacy in copies
of checks and deposit slips retained by his bank); cf. Couch v. United States, 409 U.S. 322, 335 (1973) (“[T]here can be little expectation of privacy where records are handed to an accountant, knowing that mandatory disclosure of much of the information therein is required in an income tax
return.”); Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735, 744 (1979) (holding that “[w]hen [defendant] used his phone, [he] voluntarily conveyed numerical information to the telephone company and ‘exposed’ that information to its equipment in the ordinary course of business”).

Here, Investigator Sears served the Cedar-Knox Public Power District—a third party—with the county attorney subpoena. “Because it is well-settled that ‘the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the obtaining of information revealed to a third party and conveyed by him to Government authorities[,]’ [McIntyre’s] claim[] fail[s].” United States v. Hamilton, 434 F. Supp. 2d 974, 979 (D. Or. 2006) (holding defendant lacked reasonable expectation of privacy in his utility records, meaning law enforcement officer did not need probable cause to obtain records because information contained in the records was voluntarily revealed by defendant to utility company, a
third-party recipient) (quoting Miller, 425 U.S. at 443). But McIntyre
argues that power records are different. He relies on Kyllo v. United
States, 533 U.S. 27, 121 S. Ct. 2038, 150 L. Ed. 2d 94 (2001) for the
proposition that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in his
power records because the information from the records is legally indistinguishable from the power information protected by the Fourth
Amendment in Kyllo. Id. at 980. We reject McIntyre’s argument and conclude that [t]he manner in which the information was obtained in Kyllo
(a thermal-imaging device), however, bears no resemblance to obtaining
power data from a third party by way of [a county attorney] subpoena.
Crucial to the Kyllo holding was the intrusion on the home by
“sense-enhancing technology . . . not in general public use.” Id. at 34, 121 S. Ct. 2038. Thus, while the information obtained may be similar, the means to obtaining the information is legally significant and defeats [McIntyre’s] argument. Instead, Smith v. Maryland, a case in the Miller line, is on point. There the court held that “[w]hen [defendant] used his phone, [he] voluntarily conveyed numerical information to the telephone company and ‘exposed’ that information to its equipment in the ordinary course of business” and therefore did not have an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy.

Section 25-1273 provides: When the discovery rules promulgated by the Supreme Court authorize discovery from a nonparty without a deposition, a subpoena shall be issued by the clerk of the court before whom the action is pending upon request of a party. An attorney as an officer of the court may also issue and sign such a subpoena on behalf of a court in which the attorney is authorized to practice. The subpoena shall be served in the time and manner required by the discovery rules. Such discovery rules shall not expectation of privacy in that information. Smith, 442 U.S. at 744, 99 S. Ct. 2577. Similarly, when [McIntyre] used power in his home, he voluntarily conveyed that information to [Cedar-Knox Public Power District]. As a result, he had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his power records. Id.;
see also United States v. Porco, 842 F. Supp. 1393, 1398 (D. Wyo. 1994)
(rejecting defendants’ argument that “they had an expectation of privacy in the records of their electrical usage kept by Rural Electric because Rural Electric would not voluntarily disclose a person’s electric usage” because “the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the obtaining of information revealed to a third party and conveyed by the third party to government authorities, even if the information is revealed to the third party confidentially and on the assumption that it will be used only for limited
purposes”); Samson v. State, 919 P.2d 171, 173 (Alaska Ct. App. 1996) (finding no reasonable expectation of privacy in power consumption utility records).
2.
State Statutorily-Protected Privacy Interest Additionally, McIntyre argues that he has a statutorily-protected privacy interest in his electrical usage at his Crofton residence under Nebraska Revised Statute § 70-101. According to McIntyre, authorities also “breached the very process [they] cited
as authority in [their] efforts to obtain the records”—Nebraska Revised Statute § 25-1273. He argues that the government failed to demonstrate that any of the discovery rules authorized discovery from a nonparty in this case, as required by § 25-1273.

And, he contends that, while the subpoena claims that Nebraska Rule of Civil Discovery 34A grants the issuing county attorney the “authority” to issue it, the rule applies to civil cases, not criminal cases. Here, Knox County Attorney John Thomas issued the subpoena duces tecum, under the purported authority of § 25-1273, commanding Cedar-Knox Public Power
District to provide “[a] true and complete copy of all electricity usage records and reports” for the Crofton residence. (Emphasis added.) McIntyre argues that he has a statutorily-protected interest in these usage records under § 70-101, which provides: Notwithstanding any other provision of law regarding confidentiality of records, every district or corporation organized under Chapter 70 shall, upon request, furnish to any county attorney, any authorized attorney as defined in section 42-347, or the Department of Health and Human Services a utility service subscriber’s name, social security number, and mailing and residence addresses only for the purposes of establishing and collecting child, spousal, and medical support and of conducting reviews under sections 43-512.12 to 43-512.18.
Such information shall be used for no other purpose. An action may be filed in district court to enforce this section. For purposes of this section, utility service shall mean electrical, gas, water, telephone, garbage disposal, or waste disposal service. (Emphasis added.) As the district court explained, McIntyre’s “argument that § 70-101 provides an expectation of privacy by restricting the dissemination to the county attorney of utility subscriber information is deficient because that statute relates only to identifying information and not to usage records.” United States v. McIntyre, 683 F. Supp. 2d, 438 U.S. 154 (1978).
-9-
1020, 1026 (D. Neb. 2010) (emphasis added). Therefore, we conclude that McIntyre’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated by law enforcement’s use of the subpoena, and a search warrant was unnecessary to obtain the usage records.

We also reject McIntyre’s argument that the subpoena was deficient because it was not served in compliance with § 25-1273 or Nebraska Rule of Civil Discovery 34A. As the district court explained, “[regardless of these issues, the county attorney has subpoena power, under the circumstances present here, pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat.§ 86-2,112.” Id. at 1033. Section 86-2, 112 states that “any county attorney may. . . require the production of records . . .
which constitute or contain evidence relevant or material to the investigation or enforcement of the laws of this state when it reasonably appears that such action is necessary and proper.” And, even if state law was violated,
“state law violations do not necessarily offend the Federal Constitution.”
United States v. Burtton, 599 F.3d 823, 828 (8th Cir. 2010) (quotation and citation omitted). “Thus, when a federal court must decide whether to exclude evidence obtained through an arrest, search, or seizure by state
officers, the appropriate inquiry is whether the arrest, search, or seizure violated the Federal Constitution, not whether the arrest, search, or seizure violated state law.” Id. (quotation and citation omitted). For the reasons set forth supra in Part A.1, we hold that no Fourth Amendment violation occurred.
B.
Thermal Imaging Search Warrants McIntyre also argues that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress the thermal imaging search warrants and request for a Franks hearing because the one-page utility record that Investigator Sears received and referenced in his supporting affidavit contained false information, as it improperly combined electrical usage for November and December 2008 and referred to that sum as only electrical usage for November 2008. According to McIntyre, this fact alone should
have entitled him to a Franks hearing to determine the search warrant’s veracity. He also asserts that Investigator Kelley falsely indicated in his supporting affidavit that he had obtained “records” and “reports” regarding McIntyre’s utility usage when, in fact, he had only obtained a one-page report.
McIntyre contends that this false information constitutes a misrepresentation that should have entitled him to a Franks hearing. According to McIntyre, once the false information is omitted from the affidavit, the remaining portions of the affidavit do not establish probable cause. “We review the denial of a Franks hearing for abuse of discretion.” United States v. Kattaria
, 553 F.3d 1171, 1177 (8th Cir. 2009) (en banc) (per curiam). To obtain relief under Franks, “a defendant must first demonstrate that the law enforcement official deliberately or recklessly included a false statement, or omitted a truthful statement from his warrant affidavit.” United States v. Carpenter, 422 F.3d 738, 745 (8th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). Next, the defendant must show that the affidavit would not establish probable cause if the allegedly false information is ignored or the omitted information is supplemented. United States v. Reinholz, 245 F.3d 765, 774 (8th Cir. 2001).
Allegations of negligence or innocent mistake will not suffice to demonstrate reckless or deliberate falsehood. Franks, 438 U.S. at 171, 98 S. Ct. 2674; United States v. Davis, 471 F.3d 938, 946 (8th Cir. 2006). Recklessness, however, may be “inferred from the fact of omission of information from an affidavit . . . when the material omitted would have been ‘clearly critical’ to the finding of probable cause.” United States v. Reivich, 793 F.2d 957, 961 (8th Cir.1986) (citation omitted). United States v. Mashek, 606 F.3d 922, 928 (8th Cir. 2010) (emphasis added). In determining if “an affiant’s statements were made with reckless disregard for the truth,” the test “is whether, after viewing all the evidence, the affiant must have entertained serious doubts as to the truth of his statements or had obvious reasons to doubt the accuracy of the information he reported.” United States v. Butler, 594 F.3d 955, 961 (8th Cir. 2010). “A showing of deliberate or reckless falsehood is not lightly met.” Id. (quotation and citation omitted). Here, the alleged falsehoods “do not meet the ‘substantial preliminary showing’ required by Franks.” United States v. Crissler, 539 F.3d 831, 834 (8th Cir. 2008). First, as to the utility record’s inaccurate accounting of the November 2008 usage, there is no evidence to support a finding that Investigator Sears and Investigator Kelley had reason to believe or knew that the report that Cedar-Knox Public Power District provided to them erroneously combined November 2008 and December 2008 usage. McIntyre has failed to show that the investigators “had obvious reasons to
doubt the accuracy of the information” that the public utility company provided to them. Butler, 594 F.3d at 961. Second, as to Investigator Kelley’s reference to “reports” and records” in the affidavit when, in fact, he only had a one-page report, to the extent that this statement is inaccurate, there is no evidence that Investigator Kelley deliberately or recklessly made the statement or that the statement was material. See Mashek, 606 F.3d at 928.
The number of documents or pages in the utility usage report mattered little to the merit of the affidavit. Furthermore, the one-page report that the Cedar-Knox Public Power District provided was a summation of over three years
of kilowatt usage. Therefore, we hold that the district court did not err in failing to grant McIntyre’s request for a Franks hearing and accordingly need not address whether the remaining portions of the supporting affidavit would support a probable cause finding. United States v. Curry, 911 F.2d 72, 76 (8th Cir. 1990) (“We need not address this second issue because, with respect to both alleged falsehoods, [the defendant’s] offers of proof were insufficient to meet the first Franksrequirement.”).
C.
Crofton Residence Search Warrant Finally, McIntyre argues that the search
warrant for his Crofton residence is “fruit of the poisonous tree” stemming from the county attorney subpoena and thermal imaging warrants. According to McIntyre, “[t]he affidavit and resulting search warrant
for the Crofton residence was the culmination of the subpoena for electrical records and the thermal warrants. Removing or excising either of the proceeding [sic] investigative tools defeats the crescendo of probable cause established by the previous warrants and/or subpoena.” McIntyre’s assertion that the district court erred by declining to suppress the search warrant of his Crofton residence is based on his arguments that the district court should have suppressed the county attorney subpoena and thermal imaging search warrants. Because we have already rejected these arguments, see supra Parts
A–B, his “‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ argument fails.” See United States v. Martinez, 462 F.3d 903, 910 (8th Cir. 2006). And, our independent review
of the record confirms that the search warrant for the Crofton residence was supported by probable cause. “Our role is to ensure that the evidence as a whole provides a substantial basis for finding probable cause to support the issuance of the search warrant” for [McIntyre’s] residence. United States v. Terry, 305 F.3d 818, 822 (8th Cir. 2002). “Whether probable cause . . . has been established is determined by considering the totality of the circumstances, and resolution of the question by an issuing judge ‘should
be paid great deference by reviewing courts.'” United States v. Grant,
490 F.3d 627, 631 (8th Cir. 2007), cert. denied, ___U.S. ___, 128 S. Ct.
1704, 170 L. Ed. 2d 516 (2008) (quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213,
236, 103 S. Ct. 2317, 76 L. Ed. 2d 527 (1983)). “When the affidavit supporting the search warrant sets forth facts sufficient to create a fair probability that evidence of a crime will be found in the place to be searched, probable cause exists.” Terry, 305 F.3d at 822. “Accordingly,
we examine the sufficiency of a search-warrant affidavit using a ‘common sense’ and not a ‘hypertechnical’ approach.” Grant, 490 F.3d at 632 (quoting United States v. Solomon, 432 F.3d 824, 827 (8th Cir.2005)). United States v. McArthur, 573 F.3d 608, 613 (8th Cir. 2009). Here, considering the totality of the circumstances, probable cause existed to issue the search warrant for the Crofton residence. First, the supporting affidavit set forth Investigator Sears’s encounter with McIntyre on December 8, 2008, at the
Fremont residence where Investigator Sears saw a pen tube—a “tooter” believed to be used to ingest controlled substances—in the ash tray of McIntyre’s vehicle. While at the Fremont residence, Investigator
Sears observed McIntyre’s unusual and extremely nervous behavior and smelled raw marijuana at the residence. Second, the affidavit reported that on January 9, 2009, Investigator Sears smelled a strong odor of raw marijuana outside the garage of the Crofton residence and saw a small hose
coming out from under the garage door. Third, the affidavit recounts Investigator Kelley’s discovery of McIntyre’s previous drug arrests. Fourth, the affidavit explains that Investigator Sears obtained the electricity usage records for the Crofton residence, which was “unusually high for [a] person that lived at the residence continuously.” Finally, the affidavit recounts Investigator Kelley’s knowledge, from training and experience, that “thermal imagery i[s] an investigative tool used by law enforcement to assist in the detection of indoor marijuana grow operations, whereas grow operations produce large amounts of heat from the grow lights.” The affidavit then
explains that the two thermal imagery readings of the Crofton residence showed, respectively, a higher heat signature emanating from the garage
area than from the living quarters of the home and from comparable residences in McIntyre’s neighborhood.
III.
Conclusion
Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

Cop isn’t exactly Robin Hood

Courts do not take kindly to government officials abusing their powers against citizens. In the case of United States v. Jackson, a police officer learned where thieves would house stolen goods. The officer would then obtain those goods and keep the goods for himself and another officer. Government agents set up a fake stash house for stolen goods. The officer took the bait and was ultimately convicted for stealing government property, the property the government used in the sting. What is noteworthy is that at sentencing the Court increased the officer’s sentence for being in possession of a weapon while committing the theft. Read below to see the case summary and complete opinion.

UNITED STATES v. JACKSON (E.D. Mo., Stohr) (5-9-2011)

Factual Summary: Defendant Jackson was a police officer. Agents received information that Defendant Jackson had been using his authority as
uniformed police officer to seize stolen goods. Then, Defendant Jackson would either keep those items for him, share the goods with another officer and also a finder of the stolen goods. Federal Investigators then set up a sting. The federal investigators caught Defendant Jackson in this sting illegally keeping the property. This amounted to theft. While taking the property, Defendant Jackson had his uniform and duty weapon with him. He was convicted of stealing government property. The government property, was the property used by federal agents in the sting. Defendant Jackson’s sentence was then enhanced for possessing a firearm in
connection with the felony, and for his role in organizing and leading the
theft.

The Federal Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence, holding an officer having his duty weapon on his person when his uniform is used to show authority in committing a theft satisfies the firearm enhancement. Furthermore, the evidence supported his role as a leader because the information about the original “thief” came to him, he recruited the other officer, and he distributed the stolen goods.

UNITED STATES v. JACKSON
UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Ronald JACKSON, Appellant.
No. 10–2027.
— May 09, 2011
Before WOLLMAN, LOKEN, and SMITH, Circuit Judges.
Hal Goldsmith, AUSA, argued, St. Louis, MO, for Appellee.V. Clyde Cahill, argued, St. Louis, MO, for Appellant.
Ronald Jackson, formerly a police officer with the St. Louis, Missouri, police department, pleaded guilty to the theft of federal-government property, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 641. At sentencing, the district court,1 among other things, added eight levels to Jackson’s base offense level for his possession of a dangerous weapon—his duty firearm—in connection with the offense. See U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual (U.S.S.G.) § 2B1.1(b)(13)(B) (2009). It then added two additional levels for his role in organizing and leading the theft. See U.S.S.G. § 3B 1.1(c). Jackson appeals, arguing that because his firearm played no role in facilitating the offense, and because he was not a leader, but rather was a mere “equal part[y]” with his codefendant (another officer), the adjustments found in §§ 2B 1.1(b)(13)(B) and 3B 1.1(c) do not apply. We affirm.
I.
On July 27, 2009, Jackson was on duty as a police officer when an informant tipped him off that a woman, described in the proceedings below only as “Jane Doe,” was in possession of stolen electronics. Unknown to Jackson, the “tip” had been generated by federal investigators, who suspected that Jackson had been “conduct[ing] police stops of vehicles that were supposedly containing stolen goods, [and] would then seize those items and then split those items with a third party.” Sentencing Tr. at 14:13–20. Their plan was to catch Jackson in the act.
The informant gave Doe’s location to Jackson, and the two agreed that Jackson would find her, seize the electronics, and share some of them with the informant. Jackson, a 30–year officer, contacted his co-defendant Christian Brezill, an officer with only 18 months’ experience, and asked if Brezill would help with the theft of the electronics. Brezill agreed to do so, and the two drove to the location the informant had provided, where they found Doe sitting in her car. After a computer check of her name revealed outstanding warrants for minor traffic violations, the officers arrested Doe, handcuffed her, and placed her in the back of Brezill’s police cruiser. They then searched the trunk of her car, recovering the “stolen” electronics, which they put in the trunk of Brezill’s cruiser. The officers booked Doe on the outstanding traffic warrants, but never charged her with possession of the stolen electronics and never reported their recovery to the police department.
Later, after the end of their shift, Jackson and Brezill met to divide the property. Jackson gave part of his share to the informant, kept an XBox gaming system for himself, and sold the rest for cash; Brezill kept a Wii gaming system and a laptop computer for himself, and sold the rest for cash. The total value of the property, all of which belonged to the United States government, was $1480.35.
Jackson and Brezill both pleaded guilty to theft of federal-government property. See 18 U.S.C. § 641. At Jackson’s sentencing, the district court applied—over Jackson’s objection—two upward adjustments to his base offense level. The first was for Jackson’s possession of a dangerous weapon in connection with the theft. See U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(b)(13)(B). The second was for Jackson’s role in organizing and leading the offense. See U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(c). The district court then calculated a total offense level of 15 and sentenced Jackson to 18 months’ imprisonment, the low end of the guidelines range. This appeal followed.
II.
“This court reviews the district court’s construction and application of the sentencing guidelines de novo, and we review its factual findings regarding enhancements for clear error.” United States v. Bastian, 603 F.3d 460, 465 (8th Cir.2010) (citation and quotation marks omitted).
Guidelines § 2B 1.1(b)(13)(B) provides a two-level enhancement for “possession of a dangerous weapon (including a firearm) in connection with” a theft. Furthermore, “[i]f the resulting offense level is less than level 14,” it is “increase[d] to level 14.” Jackson had a base offense level of six, see U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(a)(2), which meant that § 2B 1.1(b)(13)(B) worked an eight-level increase to his base offense level.
Jackson acknowledges that he was in possession of a firearm—his duty weapon—when he committed the theft. But, he argues, there was no “nexus” between the firearm and the offense such that the enhancement found in § 2B1.1(b)(13)(B) could apply. In his view, that section applies only when the weapon advances the criminal enterprise, for example, by “enhanc[ing] the benefits of the offense,” “mak[ing] the offense easier to commit,” “inject[ing] a degree of fear,” or “increas[ing] the seriousness of the crime,” to name a few possibilities. And, Jackson argues, his firearm was just a necessary part of his uniform, “inconsequential” to the commission of the theft.
Section 2B 1. 1(b)(13)(B) requires that the possession of the weapon be “in connection with” the theft. See also U.S.S.G. § 2B 1.1 cmt. background (“Subsection (b)(13)(B) implements, in a broader form, the instruction to the Commission in section 110512 of Public Law 103–322.”); Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Pub.L. No. 103–322, § 110512, 108 Stat. 1796, 2019 (1994) (“[T]he United States Sentencing Commission shall amend its sentencing guidelines to provide an appropriate enhancement of the punishment for a defendant convicted of a felony under chapter 25 of title 18, United States Code, if the defendant used or carried a firearm ․ during and in relation to the felony.” (emphasis added)).
But Jackson goes too far in arguing that his firearm was unconnected to his theft of the electronics. As the district court explained:
While the presence of a firearm will not always warrant [application of § 2B1.1(b)(13)(B) ], with regard to this case and this defendant, it’s clear that the presence of defendant’s firearm was not accidental or coincidental. It was available to help to deter resistance or intimidate the victim, and was available to help to protect the defendant in the event that the victim attempted to resist or harm him. In other words, the defendant used his status as a police officer with all the trappings, including the carrying of a service firearm, to commit the [theft].
Sentencing Tr. at 28:20–29:6. Indeed, it was Jackson’s police uniform, which included the firearm, that cloaked him with the apparent authority to arrest Doe, search her vehicle, and confiscate the electronics. Had he not been in uniform, it is not improbable that Doe would have regarded him as just another civilian. In those circumstances, we think it unlikely that she would have complied so readily, if at all, with his directives.
Furthermore, an officer’s visible possession of a firearm, even when it remains holstered, is a signal of authority that will usually promote compliance in an ordinary citizen. Accord Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 448, 111 S.Ct. 2382, 115 L.Ed.2d 389 (1991) (Marshall, J., dissenting) (“Our decisions recognize the obvious point, however, that the choice of the police to ‘display’ their weapons during an encounter exerts significant coercive pressure on the confronted citizen.” (citing cases)). That the department required Jackson to possess the firearm as one of the “certain tools or items in order to perform and carry out his duties,” Appellant’s Br. at 7, only furthers that view. We therefore agree with the district court that Jackson’s possession of a firearm was sufficient to support the enhancement.
III.
Jackson’s next argument—that he was not an organizer or leader for the purposes of guidelines § 3B1.1(c), but rather a mere “equal part[y]” with his co-defendant—fares no better.
Guidelines § 3B1.1(c) provides a two-level enhancement “[i]f the defendant was an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor in any criminal activity” involving fewer than five participants and that was not “otherwise extensive.” See U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1 (criminal activity involving “five or more participants” or that is “otherwise extensive” is covered in parts (a) and (b)). Section 3B1.1(c) differs from § 3B1.1(a) and (b) in that it does not distinguish an “organizer or leader” from a “manager or supervisor”—both are treated to the same two-level enhancement. The background commentary explains:
In relatively small criminal enterprises that are not otherwise to be considered as extensive in scope or in planning or preparation, the distinction between organization and leadership, and that of management or supervision, is of less significance than in larger enterprises that tend to have clearly delineated divisions of responsibility. This is reflected in the inclusiveness of § 3B1.1(c).
U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1 cmt. background. Therefore, when considering whether § 3B1.1(c) applies, it is unnecessary to determine whether the defendant was a mere “manager or supervisor” or instead was a more responsible “organizer or leader.” Still, we think that application note 4, which explains how to “distinguish[ ] a leadership and organizational role from one of mere management or supervision” for the purposes of § 3B 1.1(a) and (b), is a helpful guide in determining whether § 3B1.1(c) should be applied to a defendant. See U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1 cmt. n.4.
That note provides:
In distinguishing a leadership and organizational role from one of mere management or supervision, ․ [f]actors the court should consider include the exercise of decision making authority, the nature of participation in the commission of the offense, the recruitment of accomplices, the claimed right to a larger share of the fruits of the crime, the degree of participation in planning or organizing the offense, the nature and scope of the illegal activity, and the degree of control and authority exercised over others.
Id.
Reviewing the facts regarding Jackson’s role in the offense, we conclude that the district court did not err in applying the enhancement. At sentencing, the district court heard testimony that it was Jackson who initially planned the offense, that it was Jackson who recruited an accomplice in Brezill, that Jackson was, by some three decades, the senior officer, that when the two officers found Doe it was Jackson who “made the decision to take the property,” that it was Jackson’s decision to split up the property at Brezill’s parents’ house, and that it was Jackson who shared some of the stolen electronics with the informant. Given those circumstances, a § 3B1.1(c) enhancement was appropriate.
IV.
Jackson’s final claim of error is that the district court punished him “for criminal behavior for which he was not charged,” specifically, that it relied on evidence that Jackson had committed similar “rip off[s]” on numerous prior occasions. Doing so, Jackson argues, conflicted with the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 125 S.Ct. 738, 160 L.Ed.2d 621 (2005).
At sentencing, the government called as a witness FBI Special Agent Anthony Bernardoni, who testified that in “the spring or early summer of 2009” he had received information that Jackson had been “conduct[ing] police stops of vehicles that were supposedly containing stolen goods, [and] would then seize those items and then split those items with a third party.” It was that information that led to the sting operation that gave rise to this prosecution. Furthermore, an addendum to Jackson’s Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) remarked that “Jackson had engaged in this type of illegal activity for quite some time, and he purposely conducted this type of illegal business armed with a weapon in order to intimidate the victims.” Addendum to PSR at 1.
Although Jackson did not object to Bernardoni’s testimony (he did object to the PSR addendum), he repeatedly urged the district court not to consider any “other incidents, crimes, or alleged crimes” that had not been charged. And it seems that the district court took Jackson’s objections to heart, for the record contains no indication that the district court gave any weight to Jackson’s prior, uncharged conduct or that it made reference to such conduct while imposing its sentence. Rather, it noted Jackson’s “lack of a criminal history.” We therefore find meritless Jackson’s contention that the district court’s sentence was based, even in part, on uncharged conduct.
In any event, judge-found facts regarding uncharged conduct may be considered by the district court in selecting a sentence. See United States v. Red Elk, 426 F.3d 948, 951 (8th Cir.2005). So long as the district court treats the guidelines as advisory, as it did here, Booker is not to the contrary. See Booker, 543 U.S. at 233, 259–60; United States v. Brave Thunder, 445 F.3d 1062, 1065 (8th Cir.2006).
V.
The sentence is affirmed.
FOOTNOTES
1. The Honorable Donald J. Stohr, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Missouri.
WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge.

Give a friend a ride – make sure you know what’s in the van before you do

There are times when a person may find themselves in a situation wanting to make some easy money. Usually, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. In the Case of United States v. Listman, a young man agreed to drive a van cross country for about $1,000 a trip. The Defendant was told there were drugs in secret compartments within the van, although Defendant Listman never actually saw the drugs. However, as the case discusses, the knowledge he did have was enough for a jury to convict him of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Read below to see how a seemingly simple act can get you wrapped up into a conspiracy.

Summary:

UNITED STATES v. LISTMAN (4-12-2011)

The Jury convicted Defendant Listman of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine for his role driving a van carrying the drugs in a hidden compartment. Defendant Listman did know where the trap doors were on the vehicle and there was no evidence that he ever saw the drugs. However, The Federal Court of Appeals Held that Evidence that Defendant Listman knew the van carried drugs was sufficient to support the conviction. There was no need to need to prove he knew where in the van the drugs were.

Furthermore, The Federal Court of Appeals Held there was no error in allowing an officer to testify that Defendant Listman seemed to be under influence of drugs. This testimony was allowed not to show that Defendant was actually under the influence, but was relevant to show his knowledge, court said.

The Federal Court of Appeals rejected Defendant Listman’s argument that since he did not ever see the drugs and really did not know if he was told the truth about what he was doing, that he should be allowed to provide a “Deliberate ignorance” instruction to the jury.

Complete Decision:

636 F.3d 425 (2011)
UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,
v.
Bruce LISTMAN, Appellant.
No. 10-1721.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit.
Submitted: December 17, 2010.
Filed: April 12, 2011.

428*428 Steven Ray Davis, N. Little Rock, AR, for appellant.

Anne E. Gardner, AUSA, Little Rock, AR, for appellee.

Before RILEY, Chief Judge, BEAM and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

RILEY, Chief Judge.

A jury convicted Bruce Listman of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute at least 500 grams of methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A) and 846. Listman appeals, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction. Listman also challenges the district court’s[1] evidentiary rulings and inclusion of a deliberate ignorance jury instruction. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts[2]

From approximately March to November 2008, Listman was a courier for the Valdovinos drug trafficking organization. Candice Russell recruited Listman to drive with her from California to Arkansas because she did not have a driver’s license.

Russell and Listman drove vehicles modified to include a trap door concealing a hidden compartment. The vehicles carried methamphetamine to Arkansas and cash back to California. Listman and Russell deny knowing the specific locations of the traps.

Listman accompanied Russell on four trips.[3] Russell did not tell Listman they were smuggling drugs during their first trip to Arkansas. During their second trip, Russell told Listman “what was going on … [b]ecause it wasn’t right for him not to know.” Russell received approximately $2500 per round-trip. In turn, Russell paid Listman $1000 per trip in addition to methamphetamine.

Starting in September 2008, the offices of the United States Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in California and in Arkansas began investigating the Valdovinos drug trafficking organization, surveilling and arresting various participants. During the investigation, the DEA identified Russell as a courier.

On November 21, 2008, California Highway Patrol Officer Anthony Cichella, acting on DEA information relayed to him from an area police department, stopped a gray Toyota Corolla traveling westbound on Interstate 10 near Fontana, California. Russell was driving the vehicle and Listman was a passenger. Russell consented to a search of the vehicle. With a drug dog’s assistance, Officer Cichella discovered a trap over a modified compartment under the rear bench seat. The trap contained a crystalline residue, which Officer Cichella believed to be methamphetamine.

During the encounter, Officer Cichella observed Listman was fidgety, moody, easily agitated, and at times uncooperative. 429*429 This led Officer Cichella to conclude Listman “was definitely under the influence.” Officer Cichella did not conduct a field sobriety test and did not arrest Listman for being under the influence of a controlled substance. Officer Cichella took both Russell and Listman to the police station and seized the Corolla.

B. Prior Proceedings

A federal grand jury charged Listman with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A) and 846.[4] Listman moved to suppress evidence of Officer Cichella’s discovery of the trap, arguing the stop and search violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Alternatively, Listman moved in limine to exclude evidence of the trap, contending “testimony that he was a passenger in a vehicle which contained a hidden compartment which police suspected of being used to transport drugs would unduly prejudice his defense.” The district court denied both motions.

A three-day jury trial began on January 19, 2010. Law enforcement officers and four co-conspirators, including Russell, testified for the government. At trial, Listman objected to Officer Cichella’s observation that Listman was under the influence of drugs during the traffic stop, arguing Listman’s drug use was not relevant. The district court ultimately found the evidence admissible because “although [Listman’s] personal use of methamphetamine does not lead to the conclusion that he must have been involved in a conspiracy, it does show … that methamphetamine was … in his presence … [a]nd … would indicate he had some knowledge.” At Listman’s request, the court instructed the jury “if you believe … Listman used methamphetamine … you may not just from that alone conclude that he was involved in a conspiracy … to possess with intent to distribute.”

At the close of the government’s case, the district court denied Listman’s Fed. R.Crim.P. 29 motion for a judgment of acquittal. Listman testified in his own defense. Before closing arguments, Listman objected to the district court’s inclusion of a deliberate ignorance jury instruction. The district court overruled the objection and included the instruction. The jury found Listman guilty. Listman appeals.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Sufficiency of the Evidence

Listman claims the evidence supporting his conviction was insufficient. We “review[] sufficiency of the evidence de novo and reverse[] only if no reasonable jury could have found the defendant guilty.” Clay, 618 F.3d at 950. We must sustain a conviction when the evidence, viewed most favorably to the government, substantially supports the verdict. See id.

To convict Listman of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, “the government must prove: (1) that there was a conspiracy, i.e., an agreement to distribute [methamphetamine]; (2) that [Listman] knew of the conspiracy; and (3) that [Listman] intentionally joined the conspiracy.” United States v. Rolon-Ramos, 502 F.3d 750, 754 (8th Cir.2007) (quoting United States v. Jiminez, 487 F.3d 1140, 1146 (8th Cir.2007)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Listman concedes there was a conspiracy, but argues the government failed 430*430 to prove he knew of or intentionally joined the conspiracy.

The evidence was sufficient for the jury to conclude Listman knew he was transporting methamphetamine. Russell testified she told Listman they were transporting drugs, and it was the jury’s prerogative to believe her. “The jury is the final arbiter of the witnesses’ credibility, and we will not disturb that assessment.” United States v. Hayes, 391 F.3d 958, 961 (8th Cir.2004). The government also produced circumstantial evidence—such as Russell paying Listman cash and methamphetamine, and Russell and Listman using methamphetamine together during the trip—supporting an inference Listman knew he was transporting drugs.

Listman argues “a person who is caught driving a car full of drugs does not possess them in a legal sense if he did not know what he had.” See United States v. Mendoza-Larios, 416 F.3d 872, 873-74 (8th Cir.2005) (noting legal possession could not be inferred based solely on the defendant driving a car containing large quantities of hidden illegal drugs). This proposition, while true, is inapplicable here because the jury heard direct and circumstantial evidence demonstrating Listman knew he was transporting methamphetamine. See United States v. Ojeda, 23 F.3d 1473, 1476 (8th Cir.1994) (holding direct and circumstantial evidence supported finding driver was aware of the presence of drugs within the vehicle). It is not necessary to prove Listman knew exactly where in the vehicle the drugs were hidden.

B. Motion in Limine

Listman argues “the trial court erred in denying Listman’s motion in limine and objections at trial” to Officer Cichella’s testimony regarding the vehicle stop. Specifically, Listman challenges Officer Cichella’s testimony regarding the existence of the hidden trap and his assessment that Listman was under the influence of drugs.

“We review the district court’s evidentiary ruling for clear abuse of discretion, and will not reverse if the error was harmless.” United States v. Hyles, 479 F.3d 958, 968 (8th Cir.2007) (internal citation omitted). “The trial court has broad discretion in determining the relevancy and admissibility of evidence” and “great deference is given to a district court’s balancing of the relative value of a piece of evidence and its prejudicial effect.” United States v. Zierke, 618 F.3d 755, 759 (8th Cir.2010) (quoting Jiminez, 487 F.3d at 1145) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also United States v. Emmanuel, 112 F.3d 977, 979 (8th Cir. 1997) (“The district court’s discretion is particularly broad in the context of a conspiracy trial.”)

We perceive no reversible error here. The very existence of the hidden trap was probative as to whether Listman participated in the conspiracy and the danger of unfair prejudice, if any, did not substantially outweigh this probative value. See Fed.R.Evid. 403. “[E]vidence is not unfairly prejudicial merely because it tends to prove a defendant’s guilt.” United States v. Boesen, 541 F.3d 838, 849 (8th Cir.2008).

Neither are we persuaded the admission of Officer Cichella’s assessment that Listman was under the influence of drugs was an abuse of discretion. The district court found this assertion probative of Listman’s knowledge that he was transporting methamphetamine. The officer’s assessment also corroborated Russell’s testimony that Russell and Listman discussed methamphetamine, Russell paid Listman, in part, with methamphetamine, and they used methamphetamine during the trips. Considering the court’s accompanying 431*431 cautionary instruction that the jury could not conclude Listman was involved in the conspiracy based solely upon Listman’s use of drugs, we find no abuse of discretion. See United States v. Davidson, 449 F.3d 849, 853 (8th Cir.2006) (noting a cautionary instruction to the jury diminished the risk of unfair prejudice to the defendant). Regardless, any error was harmless. It is difficult to imagine the challenged evidence substantially influenced the verdict, see United States v. Donnell, 596 F.3d 913, 919 (8th Cir.2010), particularly because Listman admitted he often used methamphetamine with Russell, and on at least one occasion during their trips to Arkansas, Russell started to smoke methamphetamine.

C. Jury Instruction

Listman argues the district court erred in instructing the jury on a theory of deliberate ignorance consistent with Eighth Circuit Model Criminal Jury Instruction 7.04 (2007), contending “there is absolutely no evidence that Listman deliberately avoided learning about the drug conspiracy.” We disagree.

We review the inclusion of a jury instruction for an abuse of discretion and consider whether any error was harmless. See United States v. Hernandez-Mendoza, 600 F.3d 971, 979 (8th Cir.2010). “A deliberate ignorance instruction is appropriate when the evidence is sufficient to support a jury’s conclusion that `the defendant had either actual knowledge of the illegal activity or deliberately failed to inquire about it before taking action to support the activity.'” Id. (quoting United States v. Whitehill, 532 F.3d 746, 751 (8th Cir.2008)). “Ignorance is deliberate if the defendants were presented with facts putting them on notice criminal activity was particularly likely and yet intentionally failed to investigate.” Whitehill, 532 F.3d at 751. It is “not appropriate if the evidence implies defendants could only have had `either actual knowledge or no knowledge of the facts in question.'” Id. (quoting United States v. Parker, 364 F.3d 934, 946 (8th Cir.2004)).

As discussed above, Russell’s testimony and other evidence supported a conclusion Listman knew he was transporting methamphetamine. The jury could have disbelieved Russell and still concluded Listman knew it was likely he was transporting drugs and chose to remain ignorant. Listman contends, “There is no reason to believe that a methamphetamine user like [Listman] could conduct an investigation worthy of Sherlock Holmes and discover the existence of a multi-level conspiracy to transport methamphetamine.” To the contrary, we deduce it is elementary that someone recruited to drive across the country on multiple occasions in exchange for cash and drugs would suspect criminal activity was afoot. Listman’s own testimony that he wondered whether Russell had methamphetamine on her “[b]ecause she used so much more [methamphetamine] than anyone [Listman had] known before” is strong evidence Listman had some notice. The deliberate ignorance instruction was appropriate, and giving the instruction was not an abuse of discretion.

III. CONCLUSION

We affirm the judgment of the district court.

[1] The Honorable Susan Webber Wright, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

[2] “We recite the facts in the light most favorable to the jury’s verdict[].” United States v. Clay, 618 F.3d 946, 948 n. 2 (8th Cir.2010) (quoting White v. McKinley, 605 F.3d 525, 528 (8th Cir.2010)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

[3] Listman did not return with Russell on the first trip, opting instead to fly home to California.

[4] This indictment superseded an already existing indictment against other participants in the conspiracy. In January 2010, a grand jury returned a second superseding indictment, charging Listman with the same crime.

Urine samples in Minnesota DWI and Missouri v. McNeely link

The Supreme Court Case Missouri v. McNeely has generated a lot of discussion about Driving Under the Influence cases lately. The topic of when a search warrant will be required in all cases before the taking of a blood, breath or urine sample is currently being debated now that the United States Supreme Court has ruled on Missouri v. McNeely. What effect McNeely will have on Minnesota DWI laws will be determined in the future.

However, many other issues have already been ruled upon regarding DWI laws in Minnesota. One Issue is the first voiding in a urine test. The question was whether this first voiding of urine is an accurate reflection of a person’s blood alcohol content, or is this more of a pooling that has not affected the person’s intoxication level? In the case below, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the intoxication effect on the person is not the proper question, but the law only asks for proof of a person’s urine content.

If you have any questions about your DWI case, please give me a call at 651-200-3484, or see my video as to how I might be able to help you with your other cases.

For a further reading on Missouri v. McNeely, you can use this web address for the complete United States Supreme Court case decision: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/11-1425_cb8e.pdf

State v Tanksley (SUP CT, 02-08-2012, A10-0392, Hennepin Co)

First Void Urine Test, Correlation to Blood Alcohol Irrelevant.

The Defendant was convicted of Driving While Intoxicated based on a urine test showing 0.13. The State charged the Defendant with driving under influence and with more than ,08 within 2 hours of driving.

Before trial, The Defendant moved to suppress the urine test and argued for a Frye-Mack hearing stating his first void urine sample and this is an unreliable method of showing blood alcohol. The trial court denied the motion and the Defendant was convicted in a stipulated facts trial.

The Supreme Court analyzes the first question as to whether the correlation
between first void urine testing and blood alcohol concentration is relevant. Court holds that this evidence irrelevant because the Minnesota Statute only requires
proof of urine alcohol concentration, not as to whether a first voiding is more accurate in determining blood alcohol concentration than a second voiding. The Minnesota Supreme Court states that this is analogous to not allowing a defendant to introduce evidence he was not impaired in a charge of driving with a certain alcohol concentration. Therefore, the Minnesota Court does not consider any argument that this method of testing does not reveal a true or accurate alcohol concentration.

Conviction affirmed.

For just $0.99, now you too can create your own independent Nation online.

The case of United States v. Reed is an interesting case. In an attempt to avoid federal laws as an independent American Indian nation, Mr. Reed became a member of an online tribal nation. Only problem is that this internet nation is not a recognized nation by the Federal Government. Mr. Reed then relied upon his believed sovereignty to threaten a federal court judge, convey the threat to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and then threaten jail members with the use of his 9 mm hand gun. Read below to find out more about this truth is stranger than fiction case, or call me at 651-200-3484

UNITED STATES v. REED
Federal District Court of North Dakota

Defendant was convicted of possession of a firearm by a fugitive and
asserted insufficient evidence to support “constructive possession”
verdict. He also challenged the court’s instruction defining “fugitive”.

Although not a Native American, the defendant used the internet to become a
member of the unrecognized Little Shell Nation Indian Tribe and then became
the self proclaimed tribal attorney general. He challenged a federal
court’s jurisdiction over fellow non-Native American tribal members by
leaving a threat to harm a federal court judge on the judge’s voice mail.
The defendant repeated this threat in a voice mail to the FBI.

In the meantime, a Nevada state court issued a capias warrant for the defendant’s
failure to appear for a non-related state prosecution. The FBI tracked him
to North Dakota where he was arrested on the capias warrant. While incarcerated,
the defendant had a jail visit and made a phone call, both taped, repeating
the threat and mentions his 9mm hand gun. When a fellow non-Native
American tribal member was prevented from seeing the defendant at the jail,
the defendant broadened his threats and defiantly yelled that he would
use his 9mm hand gun in the safe in his house. The subsequent search
warrant discovered a 9 mm. hand gun and personal venue in the defendant’s
safe in his home.

The court found the evidence was sufficient to find that Defendant was a fugitive from justice regarding the capias warrant from Nevada and that he possessed a firearm while a fugitive.

With roomates like this who needs friends

Many times a jury has to determine the credibility of witnesses. This can happen for both lay witnesses and for expert witnesses. See below for for a case that discusses credibility of an expert witness and what federal rule of evidence applies to this evaluation. The Court also discusses what factors are considered for determining constructive possession. If you have any questions, please give me a call at 651-200-3484.

In the case, a roommate thought somebody had burglarized the residence. The roommate then called law enforcement to have them search the house. While searching the house the officers found drugs in the defendant’s room. The defendant was then charged with possession with intent to distribute over 5 grams crack cocaine. The 5 grams was significant because that increased the Defendant’s prison sentence significantly.

At trial, the expert testified that errors in the weighing of the drugs could have resulted in an amount less than 5 grams. In fact, when weighed, the actual amount was under 5 grams. Read the case on my blog to see how the jury was still able to convict the Defendant of over 5 grams.

United States v. Alfred Finch
App. from D. of Neb.

Fact Summary: Officers responded to a possible burglary. The resident, named
Steele, arrived home to find a window pried open and a door “slightly
ajar.” The resident asked officers to check the building for intruders. In one bedroom the officers noticed a plastic bag inside a laundry basket. Inside the bag were 105 small green plastic bags containing crack. There was also a digital scale, .22 caliber bullets and mail addressed to Defendant Alfred Finch. Defendant Finch was Steele’s roommate at the residence. Steele, slept in the bedroom across the hallway from Defendant.

Defendant Finch was indicted by a Grand Jury with Possession With Intent To Distribute more than 5 grams of crack cocaine. Defendant Alfred Finch
went to trial. At trial Finch was convicted of the offense. At trial, Defendant Finch focused his Defense on who really possessed the crack cocaine and also challenged the expert witness who testified as to the weight of the crack cocaine.

The Federal District Court in Nebraska sentenced Defendant Finch to 78 month in Federal Prison.

Issues: Defendant Alfred Finch Appealed his case on the following issues:

(1) On the Sufficiency of Evidence as to possession of the Crack Cocaine.

a. The Federal Court of Appeals 8th Circuits notes that:

1. Possession With Intend to Distribute has 2 elements: (a) possession and (b) intent to distribute.

2. The Possession can be proven as actual possession or constructive possession.

a. Constructive possession occurs when person has dominion over the premises in which the contraband is concealed.

3. There was sufficient evidence that Finch exercised
dominion over the bedroom.

a. Steele testified that he rented house and let Defendant Finch move into the bedroom where the drugs were found.

b. The owner of the house testified that he saw Defendant Finch in that bedroom before.

c. There was mail in the room addressed to Finch.

d. Another person testified that he had purchased
drugs from Finch in that room.

4. Intent can be based on circumstantial evidence such as
drug quantity, packaging, cash, and other relevant evidence.

a. Here there were 105 bags, bullets, a digital
scale and a witness who stated Finch sold to them from the bedroom.

(2) Admissibility of Expert Testimony

a. The Expert used at trial by the government weighed each bag individually and then determined that there was 6.68 grams of crack cocaine. This put the Defendant over the limit of 5 grams for sentencing purposes. This had an effect on the amount of prison time the sentencing guidelines called for.

1. The expert testified that the margin of error on weighing each bag was .03 grams.

2. Finch argued that if the scale was .03 high every time, there could be as little as 3.53 grams because there were 105 bags weighed.

b. At the prosecutor’s request, before trial, the expert emptied each
bag and reweighed it as a whole, the total weight was determined to be 4.28 grams.

1. At trial the Prosecutor attempted to elicit testimony from the expert that testing could have consumed enough drugs in her testing to decrease the amount from over 5 grams to 4.28 grams.

2. Defendant Finch moved to exclude this testimony arguing it was
mere speculation.

a. The Defendant argued to the Federal Court of Appeals that any claim that the expert consumed .76 grams in testing is mere conjecture.

b. The district court allowed this testimony to be heard and considered by the jury.

3. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Ruled:

a. The applicable Rule for consideration on the expert is FRE 702.

b. As a general rule, the factual basis of an expert opinion
goes to the credibility of the testimony, not the admissibility. This credibility is for a Jury to decide.

c. The Court determined that that Jury could properly evaluate the credibility of whether amounts were consumed in testing. Therefore the Verdict stands.