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United States v. Minor

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

October 23, 2019

RALPH T. MINOR, Defendant.



         Defendant Ralph T. Minor is charged with several drug crimes arising from evidence obtained from a search of his vehicle and his person after he was stopped for a traffic violation. Now before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence. An evidentiary hearing was held on October 9, 2019. The Government called Darin Vaugh, Tom O'Neil, and Denver Leverett of the Jeffersonville Police Department as witnesses. Having reviewed the parties' briefings and the evidence adduced at the hearing, we DENY the Motion to Suppress.

         Factual Background

         On the afternoon of October 5, 2016, Detectives Dan Lawhorn and Shaune Davis of the Jeffersonville Police Department conducted an undercover surveillance, focusing on drug-dealing complaints involving Defendant while he was driving a silver 2008 Chevrolet Silverado. The detectives located Defendant sitting in the driver's seat of the suspect vehicle in the 400 block of East 9th Street in Jeffersonville, Indiana. Defendant had engaged in a short meeting with another vehicle displaying a temporary registration before driving away. The detectives relayed all surveillance information to Officer O'Neil, who was located in the immediate area to assist in the investigation. Officer O'Neil also knew that Officer Vaugh, who was serving as an FBI Task Force Officer at the time of Defendant's arrest, had previously made several drug buys from Defendant through a confidential informant.

         Detective Lawhorn and Detective Davis maintained constant surveillance of Defendant, the details of which they transferred by radio to Officer O'Neil as Defendant drove away. Officer O'Neil observed Defendant drive left of center while proceeding westbound on East 10th Street and then park facing the wrong direction in the eastbound lane, prompting Officer O'Neil to conduct a traffic stop of Defendant's vehicle. Officer O'Neil approached the driver's window of Defendant's stopped car and requested his driver's license, current registration, and proof of insurance. Defendant was unable to produce proof of insurance. Officer O'Neil testified that he observed what he believed to be several criminal indicators which were not consistent with the innocent motoring public: Defendant began to sweat profusely, avoided eye contact with Officer O'Neil, and was breathing heavily. Based on the totality of the circumstances, Officer O'Neil directed Defendant to exit the vehicle to allow him to review Defendant's license and registration and issue violations for “No Proof of Insurance” and driving “Left of Center.”

         Meanwhile, Sgt. Leverett, who serves as Officer O'Neil's patrol back up and partner, had been summoned to assist Officer O'Neil with the stop. He arrived with his drug-sniffing dog, Flex, within one minute, according to. Sgt. Leverett's estimate. During the time Officer O'Neil was checking Defendant's license and registration, Sgt. Leverett performed a narcotics search of the vehicle's exterior utilizing Flex. Flex is trained to alert to methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine. At the evidentiary hearing, Sgt. Leverett described the process he followed in deploying Flex, which procedures were consistent with his training protocols. Sgt. Leverett first took Flex downwind of the vehicle to allow him to acclimate to his surroundings and clear his olfactory system. Sgt. Leverett then signaled to Flex to begin his search, which involved walking with Flex around the circumference of the vehicle. Flex was on a retractable leash, as usual when on duty, which connects to Sgt. Leverett's waist. Sgt. Leverett did not, nor does he routinely, pull back on the leash or direct Flex. Instead, he lets Flex “take him where Flex takes him.”

         When Flex approached the front passenger window of the vehicle, which had been left open by a passenger, Flex jumped through the window and displayed a positive alert to the presence of a narcotic odor inside the vehicle. Sgt. Leverett, in response to defense counsel's questions, testified that his was not the first time Flex had jumped through a vehicle's open window to detect narcotics. According to Sgt. Leverett, Flex is trained to “follow his nose” wherever it may take him until he reaches the source of the odor and to give a passive alert, such as sitting down, if he detects narcotics. Here, Flex gave his alert by sitting near the center console of the car. Sgt. Leverett estimated the entire process took about 30 seconds, and both Officer O'Neil and Sgt. Leverett testified that the process was completed before Officer O'Neil had finished writing the traffic citations.

         Pursuant to Flex's alert, Sgt. Leverett expanded the search into the vehicle to recover a leafy substance in plain view, which he identified as raw piece of marijuana, located on the rear floorboard lying near the center console. Having determined that the vehicle was registered to Defendant, Officer O'Neil effectuated an arrest of Defendant for possession of marijuana and provided Defendant his Miranda warnings. Defendant was then transported to the Jeffersonville Police Department for further questioning where at his own instigation he voluntarily disrobed, which allowed the officers to recover the following items that were hidden in his underwear:

• $200 cash
• Two cell phones
• Five clear plastic bags of cocaine
• Five clear plastic bags of crystal methamphetamine
• Twenty clear plastic bags of crack ...

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