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United States v. Melvin

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

February 15, 2019

United States of America,
James Melvin, II, Defendant.



         A federal grand jury indicted Defendant James Melvin, II, on two drug-related charges in November 2017 after authorities found two kilograms of heroin in his car during a traffic stop. Melvin now claims the Government obtained the evidence against him in violation the Fourth Amendment. Although Melvin believed that he had only been pulled over for speeding and improper window tinting, officers extended the traffic stop beyond the time necessary to give him a warning ticket for those offenses to allow a drug dog to search his vehicle. Melvin argues that the Forth Amendment did not allow the officers to detain him after issuing the warning tickets because they lacked reasonable suspicion to believe that he was engaging in any other criminal activity. The Government disagrees. It claims that officers had both reasonable suspicion and probable cause to believe that Melvin possessed heroin at the time of the traffic stop. After reviewing the testimony and documents, the undersigned agrees with the Government and finds that the extended traffic stop and the resulting search complied with the Fourth Amendment. Thus, the district court should deny Melvin's motion to suppress.

         I. Background

         The investigation that led authorities to Melvin began when an inmate who would later become a confidential informant (“CI”) spoke to DEA agents in February 2016. The CI, an inmate at a correctional facility in South Carolina, informed agents that his cellmate, Ignacio Sandoval- Acosta, was arraigning drug deals from inside the prison using a contraband cell phone. The CI would act as a translator for Sandoval-Acosta, who spoke limited English. The CI claimed that Sandoval-Acosta got his drugs from a source of supply in Mexico.

         The CI provided DEA agents with a FedEx tracking number for a package that the CI claimed was shipped at Sandoval-Acosta's direction and contained crystal methamphetamine. Agents intercepted the package and found that, as the CI told them, it contained crystal methamphetamine. After following up on other information the CI provided, the DEA signed the CI up as an informant.

         The CI then introduced an undercover DEA agent to Sandoval-Acosta. The undercover agent eventually ordered a kilogram of crystal methamphetamine through Sandoval-Acosta. Prior to the shipment arriving the undercover agent received a message from a Mexico-based phone number that included a tracking number for the drug shipment. Authorities seized the package associated with the tracking number and found that it contained just under a kilogram of crystal methamphetamine.

         This information led to a court order authorizing the interception of communications from Sandoval-Acosta's contraband cell phone.

         In early June 2016, agents intercepted phone calls between Sandoval-Acosta and an unidentified male using phone number (910) 689-7152. After the unidentified male said he was interested in purchasing heroin, Sandoval-Acosta responded that he could sell heroin to him for $57, 000 a kilogram. The unidentified male, who said he was in Fayetteville, North Carolina, told Sandoval-Acosta he wanted two kilograms of heroin.

         Sandoval-Acosta said that someone would need to verify the unidentified male had the money for the transaction and then would get it to him. The unidentified male told Sandoval- Acosta that he would need to put the deal off for about a week because he was headed to Orlando, Florida.

         Shortly after this call, the CI told agents that Sandoval-Acosta's had accidentally destroyed his contraband cell phone.

         DEA agents in Charleston, South Carolina passed the information from their investigation along to DEA Task Force Officer James Yowell, who is located in the DEA's Wilmington, North Carolina office, on June 6, 2016.

         Yowell obtained a warrant on June 7, 2016, for historical and prospective cell-site-location records from the (910) 689-7152 phone. Data from the phone showed that it regularly communicated with two known drug traffickers in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

         Over the next few days, the cell-site-location data showed the cell phone spent extended periods of time at 6025 Begonia Drive in Fayetteville. Officers surveilling the residence saw two vehicles-a 2016 Dodge Ram and a BMW sedan-parked at the residence. Melvin was the registered owner of both vehicles.

         Fayetteville police officers conducted a trash pull at the Begonia Drive residence on June 10, 2016. Among the items officers in the trash were mail addressed to Melvin and latex gloves that tested positive for heroin.

         Cell-site-location records reflect that Melvin's phone was in the Orlando, Florida area on June 18 and 19, 2016. The phone traveled to Atlanta, Georgia on June 19, 2016, before returning to Fayetteville on June 20, 2016.

         Agents observed the Dodge Ram at the Begonia Drive residence on June 20, 2016. But cell-site-location data showed the phone was in Red Springs, North Carolina at the address of a known drug trafficker. And cell site location data later that day showed the phone in Lumber Bridge, North Carolina at the address of another known drug trafficker. Later that evening, agents saw a black BMW sedan return to the Begonia Drive residence.

         The next day, Yowell learned that the cell phone was at a local public library. Yowell went to the library and saw the Dodge Ram parked in the parking lot. Eventually Yowell saw Melvin get in the truck and drive it away. At the same time, information from the phone showed that it was in motion and moving away from the library.

         The following week Yowell received authorization from this court to place a GPS tracking device ...

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