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United States v. Ahumada

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 5, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff- Appellee,
v.
Charles Ahumada, Defendant-Appellant.

          Submitted: November 14, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of North Dakota - Bismarck

          Before COLLOTON, BEAM, and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges.

          COLLOTON, Circuit Judge.

         Charles Ahumada was convicted of two drug trafficking offenses after the district court[1] denied Ahumada's motion to suppress heroin seized during the search of his rental vehicle. On appeal, Ahumada challenges the district court's denial of his motion to suppress and argues that there was insufficient evidence to support one of the convictions. We affirm.

         I.

         This case arises from a traffic stop conducted on December 29, 2014, by North Dakota Highway Patrol Trooper Jeremie Meisel. Ahumada was a passenger in a car driven by Frank Villa on Interstate 94. Meisel stopped the vehicle for speeding.

         Meisel asked Villa to accompany him to his patrol car. Meisel ran a computer check on Villa and issued him a warning for speeding. He also asked if Villa would consent to a dog sniff or a search of the vehicle, but Villa refused. Meisel then retrieved a drug-detection dog from his patrol car and led the dog around Villa's vehicle. The dog alerted to the presence of drugs as it passed the driver's door.

         Meisel began to search the car and found three used syringes in a black leather bag in the trunk. Villa admitted that the syringes were his and that he used them to take drugs. Meisel arrested Villa and allowed Ahumada to leave. The state patrol then towed the car to a regional office, and officers continued the search. Meisel eventually found over four-and-a-half pounds of heroin in the roof of the trunk.

         A grand jury charged Villa and Ahumada with one count of conspiracy to distribute, and to possess with intent to distribute, heroin, 21 U.S.C. § 846, and one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Ahumada moved to suppress the seized heroin, arguing that Meisel violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment, as interpreted in Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609 (2015). He argued that Meisel, by extending the duration of the traffic stop to conduct a dog sniff around the vehicle, effected an unreasonable seizure. After a hearing, the district court denied the motion. The court concluded that the seizure was permissible under binding appellate precedent at the time of the incident, and that the later-issued Rodriguez decision did not justify excluding the evidence.

         A jury then found Ahumada guilty, and the district court imposed sentence. In reviewing the denial of Ahumada's motion to suppress, we review the district court's factual findings for clear error and its legal conclusions de novo. United States v. Bell, 480 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2007). Where a defendant challenges the sufficiency of evidence, we will uphold a conviction if a reasonable juror could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. United States v. Washington, 318 F.3d 845, 852 (8th Cir. 2003).

         II.

         There is no dispute that Trooper Meisel had probable cause to seize Ahumada and Villa when he saw that the car was speeding on the highway. Ahumada contends, however, that once Meisel issued a warning to Villa, and Villa refused consent to search the car, Meisel unreasonably prolonged the seizure for the time required to conduct a dog sniff around the vehicle. Rodriguez held that "a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution's shield against unreasonable seizures." 135 S.Ct. at 1612. Because police discovered drugs in the car only as a result of this allegedly unlawful seizure, Ahumada argues that the evidence should be suppressed pursuant to the judicially created exclusionary rule. See generally Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135 (2009).

         A videorecording of the incident shows that Meisel's dog alerted to the presence of drugs in the car approximately eight-and-a-half minutes after the trooper issued a warning notice to Villa. The district court concluded that suppression of evidence was not justified, because the brief extension of the seizure ...


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