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United States v. CJ Bettis

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

January 10, 2020

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
CJ Bettis Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: March 15, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - St. Paul

          Before SHEPHERD, ERICKSON, and KOBES, Circuit Judges.

          KOBES, Circuit Judge.

         CJ Bettis challenges the denial of his motion to suppress nearly 200 grams of heroin found in a rental car he was driving. Because law enforcement obtained additional facts during the traffic stop that "established beyond question the existence of probable cause," United States v. Olivera-Mendez, 484 F.3d 505, 513 (8th Cir. 2007), we affirm the district court.[1]

         I.

         In the summer of 2016, informants tipped off police that Bettis was selling heroin in the Minneapolis area. Bettis, who has two prior convictions involving trafficking heroin from Chicago, is married to Natasha Daniels. In a previous investigation, police had searched his home and found more than 80 grams of heroin and a fake ID. When law enforcement learned that Bettis was in Chicago and likely driving a Toyota rented by Daniels, they set up surveillance on his return route.

         Shortly before 5 p.m. on November 8, 2016, Minnesota State Trooper Derrick Hagen stopped the Toyota for speeding on I-94. When asked for identification, the driver presented an Illinois photo ID with the name "Vernon Silas." Trooper Hagen recognized him as Bettis. A passport identified the passenger as Dalia Taha. Bettis did not have a valid license. The rental contract showed that Daniels, who was not in the car, was the only authorized driver.

         Trooper Hagen smelled a strong odor of raw marijuana coming from the vehicle. He separated Bettis and Taha and questioned both. Bettis claimed that he had traveled to Chicago with his son and attended a cousin's birthday party with Taha. When the trooper said that he smelled marijuana, Bettis admitted that he and Taha had smoked in the car. Taha told a different story. She claimed that she had been at a funeral with Bettis, but she could not remember any details, including the decedent's name. She admitted that she had smoked marijuana but not, she said, in the rental car.

         A second Minnesota State Trooper arrived and secured Taha in his patrol car. Trooper Hagen then walked his drug-detection canine around the rental car. The dog alerted to the driver's side of the vehicle, and then indicated that the center console had drugs. Law enforcement found marijuana remnants in the console.

         Officers conducted a roadside search using flashlights but did not find additional drugs. Based everything they knew and because drug dealers sometimes use marijuana to mask the odor of other drugs, the officers suspected additional drugs were hidden in the Toyota. Shortly after 6 p.m. they towed the vehicle to a police garage for a more thorough search. Bettis and Taha were dropped off at a nearby gas station.

         The next day law enforcement performed another dog sniff on the rental vehicle. After the dog alerted, they obtained a state court warrant to search the Toyota. This time, officers discovered approximately 200 grams of heroin in the driver's headrest. That same day Daniels called law enforcement about the vehicle, and the case agent said that it would be returned directly to the rental company.

         A grand jury indicted Bettis on one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) & (b)(1)(B) and two counts of distribution of heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) & (b)(1)(C). Bettis moved to suppress the heroin found in the Toyota, arguing that law enforcement violated his Fourth Amendment rights by towing the vehicle to the police garage after the initial roadside search. The magistrate judge found that Bettis had standing to challenge the seizure of the rental car under United States v. Muhammad, 58 F.3d 353 (8th Cir. 1995) (per curiam) and United States v. Best, 135 F.3d 1223 (8th Cir. 1998). The court denied the motion to suppress because highway conditions limited the search's effectiveness and the suspects' misleading and confusing stories increased the officers' suspicions. The district court adopted the report and recommendation in full.

         The court convicted Bettis on all three charges and sentenced him to 120 months in prison. Bettis timely appealed the denial of his motion to suppress the heroin found in the Toyota.[2] We have jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. § 3742 and 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and review the district ...


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