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United States v. Leon

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 24, 2019

United States of America Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
Javier Leon Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: December 10, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Little Rock

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, WOLLMAN and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.

          GRASZ, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Javier Leon appeals both the denial of his motion to suppress and his jury conviction for possessing more than 500 grams of methamphetamine. We affirm the district court.[1]

         I. Background

         In March 2015, Senior Corporal Olen Craig of the Arkansas State Police observed a tractor-trailer parked on the shoulder of an entrance ramp. Because parking on the ramp is illegal, Craig typically only saw vehicles parked there when the driver had a problem. He stopped to do a welfare check and met Javier Leon, the driver. Leon stated that he was not having an emergency and had just pulled over to call his dispatch. However, Craig did not see Leon on the phone. Craig asked to see Leon's bill of lading and his logbook, and Leon provided those. From his own experience as a truck driver, Craig determined there were two abnormalities in Leon's logbook: (1) Leon had been off duty for two weeks, which is unusually long for a truck driver who owns his own truck; and (2) Leon waited two days after picking up his load before beginning his route.

         Based on the abnormalities in Leon's logbook, Craig asked if Leon was carrying drugs in his truck. Leon denied he was. Craig perceived Leon as very nervous when he made this denial. Craig asked for permission to search the truck for anything illegal, and Leon consented. After Craig examined the cab, Leon unlocked the padlock on the back of the truck. Craig saw it was heavily loaded with furniture, and he decided he was too old to actually climb in and over the cargo and search the vehicle.

         Because Craig knew that another officer, Chase Melder, was nearby with a drug dog, he called Melder to come assist with the search. After less than five minutes, Melder arrived. He ran his dog around the truck, and the dog had a profound alert at the rear doors and about a quarter of the way from the back of the trailer. Melder crawled up into the truck and found approximately 116.5 kilograms (almost 260 pounds) of meth at the second area where his dog had alerted. Leon testified the total search time between Craig's arrival and his arrest was more than thirty minutes, while Craig testified the total search time was approximately fifteen minutes.

         The meth Melder found in the back of the truck was in five-gallon clear plastic jugs, a Purple Power bottle, and a feed sack. The jugs and feed sack were sitting on an upside-down table behind some boxes, and some of the jugs were under a blanket. Police recovered six full jugs of meth, one cracked (and therefore empty) jug, a full Purple Power bottle, and several bundles of meth from the feed sack.

         In July 2015, a grand jury indicted Leon on one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. He filed a motion to suppress the physical evidence, arguing it was obtained through an illegal search, that the search was unreasonable, his consent was not voluntary because he could not understand English, and the search exceeded the scope of any consent. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied the motion. The district court observed reasonable suspicion was not required for a dog search at the time of the incident in question, the delay for the dog was de minimis, Leon appeared to sufficiently understand English to voluntarily consent, and the call for a dog was within the scope of consent to search a packed truck.

         The jury trial began in May 2017. After three days of trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict. Leon filed a motion for acquittal, which the district court denied. The district court sentenced Leon to 180 months of imprisonment. Leon timely appealed.

         II. Analysis

         Leon raises three arguments on appeal. First, he challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to show he knowingly possessed the meth. Second, he challenges the denial of his motion to suppress, arguing the extension of the traffic stop was more than de minimis. Third and ...


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