Daniel has not demonstrated that the omission of the initial car search’s fruitlessness from the affidavit amounted to a deliberate falsehood or showed reckless disregard for the truth.

 

U.S. v. Daniel

No. 22 – 3840

Sixth Circuit Appellate Court

August 16, 2023

Miami Valley Bulk Smuggling Task Force Observes Narcotics Criminal Activity Afoot

On Wednesday July 22, 2020, agents with the Miami Valley Bulk Smuggling Task Force were surveilling a hotel in an area allegedly frequented “by persons involved in drug trafficking and money laundering for various drug trafficking organizations.”  Agents noticed a silver Dodge Charger with a California license plate in the hotel parking lot and decided to check the vehicle’s plate number for recent border crossings; the vehicle entered the United States from Mexico on July 14, 2020, occupied by Mr. Jermaine Bounds and Mr. Alejandro Daniel.  Law enforcement databases indicated that Mr. Daniel was previously caught crossing the border with a user – amount of marijuana.  Mr. Bounds had a prior drug-related offense on his record and an active arrest warrant for a traffic violation.  Neither Mr. Bounds nor Mr. Daniel were registered as guests at the hotel.

A Well-Traveled Alexis and Her Pet Supplies Appears

At some point during the surveillance, agents saw a woman, later identified as Ms. Alexis Iniguez, remove pet supplies for her dog from the Dodge Charger’s trunk.  Ms. Iniguez was on the hotel guest list, and research revealed that she had crossed the Mexico-U.S. border several times before, most recently in 2019.  Agents later saw Ms. Iniguez, her dog, and two men—ultimately confirmed to be Mr. Bounds and Mr. Daniel – approach the Dodge Charger.  Ms. Iniguez and her dog got into the Dodge Charger while Mr. Bounds and Mr. Daniel got into a nearby Kia Soul, and both cars departed.

Fairview Avenue and Mayfair Road in Dayton is a Popular Intersection

The agents followed the two cars into Dayton, where they stopped at the intersection of Fairview Avenue and Mayfair Road.  Ms. Iniguez parked the Dodge Charger on Mayfair while Mr. Bounds parked the Kia Soul on Fairview near the intersection so that someone sitting in the Kia Soul could observe the parked Dodge Charger.  Mr. Daniel exited the Kia Soul and approached the Dodge Charger, motioning for Ms. Iniguez to get out.  Mr. Daniel then took the car key from Ms. Iniguez and got into the car, “reaching into” the front passenger area, then the driver’s area.  Mr. Daniel then locked the car with the key fob and began walking north on Mayfair with Ms. Iniguez and her dog in tow.  Agent Richard Miller followed.

Mr. Daniel was initially contacted near the intersection of Fairview Avenue and Mayfair Road in Dayton, Ohio.  The series of events that followed led to the arrest, charges, conviction and appeal for Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute Heroin.  Were the actions of law enforcement Objectively Reasonable?

Alejandro Lies

Eventually, Mr. Daniel and Ms. Iniguez noticed Agent Miller following them and split up.  When approached by agents, Mr. Bounds declined to answer any questions or provide identification, while Mr. Daniel provided identification but denied having been in either the Dodge Charger or the Kia Soul and said that he “would love to help but doesn’t know.”

Alexis Had Credit Card Debt

Ms. Iniguez proved more talkative.  She told Agent Miller that Mr. Daniel had offered to pay her an indeterminate sum to drive the Dodge Charger from California to Dayton, and she needed the money to pay off her credit card debt.  So on July 19, she picked the Dodge Charger up in California from Mr. Bounds and Mr. Daniel, who also asked her to rent another car, the Kia Soul, so they could follow her.  The group then met at a hotel in Arizona on July 20.  From there, Mr. Bounds and Mr. Daniel directed Ms. Iniguez to drive the Dodge Charger to Dayton.  They arrived in Dayton in the early hours of July 22, where Ms. Iniguez rented two hotel rooms for the group under her name.

Alexis Describes the California to Dayton Trip as Illicit

Ms. Iniguez told Agent Miller that “she thought this trip was illicit” but needed the money.  She also stated that she did not know who owned the Dodge Charger but believed that Mr. Daniel drove it regularly.  And she gave Agent Miller permission to search both the Dodge Charger and the hotel rooms.  The search of the rooms turned up a “user amount of high-grade marijuana and paraphernalia” in the room where Mr. Bounds and Mr. Daniel had stayed.  The search of the Dodge Charger lasted “maybe less than ten minutes” and did not result in discovery of any contraband.  Despite discovering no evidence, agents decided to tow the car.

A Search Warrant is Obtained

Later that day, Agent Jason Leslie provided an affidavit to an Ohio state court judge describing the individuals’ history of border-crossings and any prior offenses; agents’ observations at the hotel; the group’s drive to Dayton; the agents’ observations at the Fairview-Mayfair intersection; Ms. Iniguez’s statements to Agent Miller, including her purported consent to search the car and hotel rooms; and the marijuana found in the hotel room. The warrant did not state that a search of the Dodge Charger had failed to turn up contraband.

Dodge Charger Had a Hidden Compartment with Three Kilograms of Fentanyl and Heroin

Finding that the affidavit provided probable cause that evidence of money laundering or drug trafficking could be found in the vehicle, a state court judge issued the warrant, authorizing agents to search the Dodge Charger for illicit drugs as well as any related paraphernalia, supplies, and records.  The search led to the discovery of three kilograms of a drug mixture suspected to contain fentanyl or heroin, which had been stored in a secret “aftermarket” compartment within the dashboard of the car.

Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute

Mr. Daniel was indicted for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of a controlled substance containing heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1)(A) and (b)(1)(A), and 846.  Mr. Daniel moved to suppress the evidence found in the Dodge Charger on the grounds that the search and seizure of the car were not supported by probable cause and requested an evidentiary hearing.

Motion to Suppress is Denied and Plea is Accepted

After an evidentiary hearing and supplemental briefing from the parties, the district court denied the motion, concluding that the warrant was supported by probable cause.  Mr. Daniel subsequently entered a guilty plea pursuant to an agreement that allowed him to appeal the denial of his suppression motion.  This appeal follows.

Appeal Based on an Alleged Violation of the Good Faith Doctrine

“[T]he exclusionary rule does not apply where police relied in good faith on a warrant later found deficient, so long as their reliance was objectively reasonable.”  United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 922–24 (1984).  So where, as here, officers discovered the evidence after obtaining a warrant, even if the warrant lacked probable cause, the good-faith exception precludes suppression unless: (1) The warrant affidavit includes statements that the affiant knew or should have known were untrue; (2) “The issuing magistrate wholly abandoned his or her judicial role;” (3) The warrant affidavit is “bare bones” or lacks any indicia of probable cause; or (4) “The warrant is so facially deficient” that it would be unreasonable for police to think it was valid.

Is an Omission in the Affidavit the Legal Equivalent as an Untruth?

In his brief, Mr. Daniel argued that the good-faith exception should not apply to the warrant in this case because the underlying affidavit contained two material omissions that amounted to untruths and otherwise lacked sufficient indicia of probable cause.  But at argument, Mr. Daniel’s counsel conceded that the “crux of this case” is whether one particular purported omission was significant enough to change the probable-cause and good-faith analyses, so we focus on that specific omission.

Established Case Law

Material omissions in a warrant affidavit can defeat application of the good-faith exception, but “an affidavit which omits potentially exculpatory information is less likely to present a question of impermissible official conduct than one which affirmatively includes false information.”  United States v. Atkin, 107 F.3d 1213, 1217 (6th Cir. 1997);

Affidavit Language

To start, the affidavit contains the following information about the car search:   Ms. Iniguez stated she would give Agents consent to search the Charger and her hotel rooms . . . . Ms. Iniguez stated Mr. Daniel still had the keys but granted Agent [Agent Miller] permission to use a vehicle access tool to conduct the consent search.  Ms. Iniguez stated to Agent Miller that she does not know who the owner of the Dodge Charger was, but she knows Mr. Daniel, to drive the vehicle on a regular basis.  After the consent search, Ms. Iniguez agreed to grant consent to search her two hotel rooms . . . . Inside the hotel room[] where Mr. Daniel and Mr. Bounds were staying[,] Agent Agent Miller located a user amount of high-grade marijuana and paraphernalia. Agents did not locate contraband in Ms. Iniguez’s room.

The Affidavit Omission is Revisited

The affidavit notes that the hotel room search occurred “[A]fter the consent search.”  Given the preceding statements, this reference to a consent search can only refer to the search of the Dodge Charger.  And reading further, the affidavit discloses the contraband found in the hotel room, so a reader could understand the affidavit’s bare mention of a consent search to suggest that nothing was found in the car.  This also comports with Leslie’s testimony at the evidentiary hearing, where he stated that he “thought that . . . [he] had mentioned that search had taken place,” but that it was “very possible” he had failed to state that officers found no contraband.

Sixth Circuit Concludes the Omission is Not an Untruth

In context, it is not clear that the affidavit’s failure to clarify that nothing was found in the car qualifies as an omission, let alone a material one:  Failing to state that contraband was found in the car search suggests—if obliquely—that nothing was found, particularly given that when officers found contraband in the hotel room, it was stated in the affidavit.  So including this information would have only bolstered an accurate impression, rather than correcting a misimpression; therefore, failing to clarify the search’s futility does not rise to the level of a falsehood or a reckless disregard for the truth so as to avoid the good-faith exception.

Established Case Law Opposes Mr. Daniels Legal Accusation

Additionally, Mr. Daniel has not identified, nor are we aware of, a case where a similarly vague statement in an affidavit qualified as a material omission that would defeat application of the good-faith exception.  On the contrary, in at least one case, we said that an unclear statement that could be read in two ways (one favorable to the defendant, one unfavorable) did not constitute a falsehood or material omission that would overcome the good-faith exception.  U.S. v. Ardd, 911 F.3d 348 (6th Cir. 2018)

The Initial Fruitless Search Does Not Defeat Probable Cause

Nor does our case law support Mr. Daniel’s contention that the initial search’s fruitlessness caused probable cause to wane such that officers could not reasonably rely on the search warrant.  True, officers’ awareness of an initial, fruitless search of the location is “relevant to a determination of whether they relied on the warrant in good faith.”  United States v. Bowling, 900 F.2d 926, 932 (6th Cir. 1990).  But it is not dispositive if, under the specific facts of the case, failure to mention the initial search’s lack of results would not have led the judge issuing the warrant to a different conclusion.

The Initial Search that Did Not Discover the Hidden Compartment Does Establish Bad Faith

Such is the case here.  Aside from the fact that context clues indicate that nothing was found in the car, the initial search here was akin to the search in Bowling—a fifteen-minute search of a trailer—where we affirmed the denial of a motion to suppress.

Like in Bowling, the search of the Dodge Charger was brief, lasting at most ten minutes, and the evidence was ultimately found in a location not originally searched, a hidden “aftermarket” compartment.  So, as in Bowling, the “search here was not so broad as to . . . imply bad faith.”

By contrast, in cases where brief searches have caused probable cause or reasonable suspicion to wane, officers received some kind of affirmative indication that there was no contraband in the vehicle, such as with a drug-sniffing dog.  There was no affirmative indication here disproving the existence of contraband in the car, putting this case closer to Bowling and Green, where we affirmed denials of motions to suppress because omitted information would not have altered the probable-cause calculus.

Perhaps the Only Reckless Disregard for the Truth was the Accusation for Reckless Disregard for the Truth?

Mr. Daniel has not demonstrated that the omission of the initial car search’s fruitlessness from the affidavit amounted to a deliberate falsehood or showed reckless disregard for the truth. Therefore, even if the warrant lacked probable cause, the good-faith exception applies.  And although the district court affirmed on the basis of probable cause and did not apply the good-faith exception, we may affirm on any ground supported by the record.

For the foregoing reasons, we affirm.

Information for this article was obtained from U.S. v. Daniel, 22 – 3840.

U.S. v. Daniel, 22 – 3840 was issued by the Sixth Circuit Appellate Court on August 16, 2023 and is binding in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Application of the Good Faith Doctrine – The Good Faith Doctrine established in Leon is that if an officer relies on a search warrant that is signed by a judge; then if there is a determination later by an appellate court that holds there was not probable cause for the warrant, any evidence is admissible as the officer would have relied on the warrant in ‘Good Faith’. When the U.S. Supreme Court established the Good Faith Doctrine in 1984 created four exceptions to the rule. The one at issue in this case was the omission on the affidavit that the initial search of the Dodge Charger revealed no contraband rise to the level of the first prong of Leon … was that omission an ‘untrue’ statement?  Ultimately the Sixth Circuit Appellate Court held “Daniel has not demonstrated that the omission of the initial car search’s fruitlessness from the affidavit amounted to a deliberate falsehood or showed reckless disregard for the truth.”.
  2. Does One Fruitless Search Extinguish Probable Cause? In this case the agents conducted an initial search of the Dodge Charger based upon consent by Ms. Alexis Iniguez.  That search did not reveal any contraband.  Later the agents obtained a search warrant that included the Dodge Charger and a hidden compartment was discovered or as the court described it an aftermarket compartment.  Therein Mr. Daniel had nestled three kilograms of a drug mixture suspected to contain fentanyl or heroin.  The question becomes that once probable cause is established how many times may law enforcement search a vehicle?  Courts have not limited the number of times a vehicle can be searched.  In 2022 [undated] the Fourth District Appellate Court issued State v. Harper, 2022 – Ohio – 4357.  In that case two Ohio State Troopers searched the same van three times based upon a probable cause that narcotics were therein based on a canine alert and in-cruiser video.  The Fourth District Appellate Court held “Thus, we reject Harper’s argument that the way the troopers conducted the search resulted in three separate searches, each of which required its own separate reasonable suspicion or probable cause.”.
  3. Pre-Sent Arms! Agents with the Miami Valley Bulk Smuggling Task Force should be highly commended for this complex investigation that resulted in a conviction and that conviction being upheld by the Sixth Circuit Appellate Court. Well done!

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Robert H. Meader Esq.