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United States v. Guzman

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 13, 2019

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Chase Logan Guzman Defendant-Appellant United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Justin Thomas Morales, also known as Speedy Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: February 13, 2019

          Appeals from United States District Court for the District of South Dakota - Sioux Falls

          Before LOKEN, COLLOTON, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          KELLY, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         As part of an investigation of large-scale methamphetamine trafficking, law enforcement officers pulled over Justin Morales and Chase Guzman in a traffic stop and found a pound of marijuana and a firearm on Guzman. Officers obtained a search warrant and subsequently found more marijuana and two pounds of methampheta-mine inside a home connected to the trafficking. Morales and Guzman were indicted on one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, and Guzman was indicted on one count of using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime. After the district court[1] denied their respective motions to suppress evidence, Guzman conditionally pleaded guilty to both counts and Morales proceeded to trial where the jury found him guilty. Defendants separately appeal the district court's denial of their motions to suppress and raise various sentencing and evidentiary issues. We consolidated the appeals, and for the reasons explained below, we affirm.

         I

         At the suppression hearing, various law enforcement officers testified to the following facts. In March 2016, a confidential informant (CI) told agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that Morales would be trafficking firearms and large quantities of methamphetamine from Wichita, Kansas, to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the surrounding area. According to the CI, Morales asked him to help with the transportation and local distribution of the drugs. ATF Special Agents Emmet Warkenthien and Brent Fair opened an investigation.

         Over the next several months, ATF agents amassed evidence of Morales's methamphetamine trafficking. The agents recorded more than forty phone calls between the CI and Morales discussing methamphetamine "buys." Some of these purchases came to fruition. In April 2016, for instance, ATF agents arranged for the CI to conduct a controlled buy of approximately four ounces of methamphetamine from Morales in exchange for $5, 000.

         In the early morning hours of September 22, 2016, the CI contacted Warkenthi-en with information that would lead to Morales's and Guzman's arrests later that day. The CI told Warkenthien that Morales and Guzman had arrived in Sioux Falls from Witchita to sell methamphetamine and marijuana. The CI relayed that Morales and Guzman were staying at the Days Inn hotel in Sioux Falls and that the CI planned to meet with Morales that morning to discuss the CI's involvement in the drug trafficking. Fair drove to the Days Inn to set up surveillance.

         As anticipated, the CI spent a large part of the morning meeting with Morales and Guzman at the Days Inn and some area businesses. The CI recorded many of the group's conversations. In one of these conversations, Morales told the CI that he was storing two pounds of methamphetamine and three pounds of marijuana at the home of Jerri Young Running Crane in Sioux Falls. Morales also told the CI that he had a 9mm Glock 19 semiautomatic pistol that Guzman intended to "take with him" for "protection" during drug sales.

         While stationed at the Days Inn parking lot that morning, Fair observed two people get out of a Kansas-plated minivan registered to Jacqueline Morales and get into the CI's vehicle. Fair personally identified one of the individuals as Justin Morales based on photos that he had seen previously. Other agents also stationed at the hotel identified the other individual as Guzman and communicated that information via radio to the rest of the investigation team. Morales, Guzman, and the CI left the Days Inn parking lot but returned sometime later, still in the CI's vehicle. All three individuals exited the CI's vehicle and accessed a Kansas-plated pickup truck registered to Guzman. Agents then saw Morales and Guzman get into the minivan and drive off.

         Guzman and Morales drove to Young Running Crane's home, where agents had also set up surveillance. An agent positively identified Morales and Guzman getting out of the minivan and entering the home. Some time later, Sioux Falls Narcotics Detective Adam Buiter observed Morales and Guzman-both of whom he identified based on pictures he had previously seen-exit the home and get into the minivan once more. Buiter relayed this information to the rest of the investigation team.

         The minivan left Young Running Crane's home, and several members of the surveillance team followed in unmarked cars. The minivan's "circuitous" driving around area businesses made the agents concerned that their surveillance had been, or soon would be, detected. So they decided to enlist the assistance of the South Dakota Highway Patrol to conduct a "ruse" stop of the vehicle in a marked patrol car based on the evidence of drugs and firearms they had already collected that day. The intent of such a stop is to maintain the appearance of an everyday traffic stop so as to not alert subjects of a narcotics investigation that they may soon be arrested, and to minimize dangers that may arise when armed suspects are stopped by unmarked law enforcement vehicles.

         Detective Dan Christiansen, who was part of the surveillance team, contacted State Trooper Andrew Steen to assist with the stop. Christiansen told Steen that the minivan's occupants possessed drugs and firearms. Steen was instructed that he did not have wait to develop his own probable cause for a traffic violation before stopping the minivan but that he should make the stop look routine.

         Steen stopped the minivan, and Sioux Falls Police Officer Jason Christensen arrived to provide assistance. Steen approached the driver's side and Christensen approached the passenger's side. Steen falsely told Morales, who was driving, that his brake light was out and asked him to step out of the vehicle. For his part, Christensen asked Guzman, who was sitting in the passenger seat, also to exit. When Guzman obliged, Christensen saw a small plastic bag containing marijuana between the passenger seat and the doorsill. The officers placed Morales and Guzman in handcuffs. Steen and Christensen searched the minivan and found a pound of marijuana, various cell phones, cash, and a ...


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