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United States v. Belakhdhar

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 3, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Mohamed Belakhdhar, Defendant.

          Anthony P. Patti Magistrate Judge

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE [20]

          Arthur J. Tarnow Senior United States District Judge

         On February 6, 2018, Defendant Mohamed Belakhdhar was charged with Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Controlled Substances in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1). On April 2, 2018, Mr. Belakhdhar filed a Motion to Suppress Evidence [20]. The Government filed a Response [22] on May 4, 2018. The Court held a hearing on the Motion on May 15, 2018 at which it requested supplemental briefing.

         Because the stop of Mr. Belakhdhar's vehicle was not supported by probable cause or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, his Motion to Suppress [20] is GRANTED.

         Statement of Facts

         On January 23, 2018, Michigan State Police Trooper, Michael Daniels, was patrolling the freeway on I-94 in a marked patrol vehicle. It was drizzling, cold, and windy. That morning, Daniels was contacted by his supervisor, Sergeant Patino, regarding a DEA investigation. The DEA had advised Sgt. Patino that it had received a tip from a Confidential Informant (“CI”) one day prior, that a person named Henry Soto would be transporting a large quantity of heroin in a Toyota Camry from Chicago to Detroit.

         On the morning of January 23, 2018, DEA team members were stationed on I-94 to perform surveillance to locate the Camry. The DEA identified a black Camry, with an Illinois license plate, heading east on I-94. The DEA also observed a second vehicle, a Toyota RAV-4, traveling at approximately the same speed, and changing lanes at the same time, as the Camry. The RAV-4 had a temporary Illinois license plate.

         Prior to locating the Camry, the DEA did not have any information to suggest that the Camry would be traveling with another vehicle. However, based on the fact that the Camry and RAV-4 were driving “in tandem, ” the DEA concluded that the drivers of the two cars were working together. As a result, the DEA contacted the Michigan State Police and requested that traffic stops be conducted on both the Camry and the RAV-4.

         Sgt. Patino instructed Trooper Daniels to stop the RAV-4. At approximately 9:48 AM, Daniels located the RAV-4 traveling eastbound on I-94. When Daniels first observed the RAV-4, the car was traveling at the 70 mph speed limit. Daniels pulled up next to the RAV-4 and continued to drive alongside the vehicle to “observe the occupants and to make sure that it was the correct vehicle.” Hr'g Tr. 32:12-13, May 15, 2018. The RAV-4 slowed down as Daniels pulled up next to it. Daniels then got behind the vehicle. At that point, the RAV-4 was traveling at 53 mph. Daniels turned on his lights to effectuate a stop. Daniels testified that he “pulled the vehicle over because it was part of the investigation and also did have a clear traffic violation that [he] observed.” Id. at 33:1-2.

         After stopping the RAV-4 near exit 133 on I-94, Daniels approached the vehicle and spoke with the driver, Defendant Mohamed Belakhdhar. There was also a passenger, Amber Johnson, in the vehicle. Both parties provided identification to Daniels. Mr. Belakhdhar indicated that he was traveling from Chicago to Detroit to visit someone in the hospital. Daniels asked to search the vehicle, to which Mr. Belakhdhar consented. The search did not reveal any contraband. Daniels released the vehicle and Mr. Belakhdhar continued heading east to Detroit.

         The DEA maintained surveillance on the RAV-4. After Daniels concluded the traffic stop, Shawn Koltuniak, a Border Patrol Agent who works with the DEA task force, ran an immigration search on the ID Mr. Belakhdhar provided to Daniels. Based on that database search, the DEA determined Mr. Belakhdhar did not have lawful immigration status. The DEA communicated this information to Border Patrol and requested that a Border Patrol agent stop the RAV-4 “on the immigration bounce, ” id. at 28:20-22, should an agent observe the vehicle.

         Around approximately 11:30 AM, Border Patrol Agent, Benjamin Wolf, received information from his supervisor that an illegal alien was driving a RAV-4 with a temporary Illinois plate. At 1:00 PM, Agent Wolf located the RAV-4 exiting I-375 in Detroit. Agent Wolf performed a vehicle stop based on the suspected immigration violation. Border Patrol Agent Daniel Reed, who was driving in a separate marked vehicle behind Agent Wolf, assisted with the stop.

         Mr. Belakhdhar gave Agent Wolf his Illinois state Id. Upon Wolf's request, Mr. Belakhdhar told Wolf that he was a citizen of Tunisia. Wolf conducted a records check which revealed that Mr. Belakhdhar's 2009 application for lawful immigration status had been denied. Wolf then performed a fingerprint check to confirm that, in 2000, Mr. Belakhdhar entered the United States on a visa which had since expired.

         While Wolf was questioning Mr. Belakhdhar about his immigration status, Agent Reed asked to conduct a canine search of the RAV-4. Mr. Belakhdhar declined. Reed proceeded to walk the dog around the exterior of the vehicle. The dog alerted to the back bumper. Reed, along with a DEA agent on the scene, removed all items from the trunk and spread them out to allow for the dog to sniff each item individually. The dog alerted to a microwave box which contained a microwave. The agents ...


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