Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Good Faith Saves Warrantless GPS Search; LEO Testimony About Mexican Meth Labs Supported Enhancement for Importation

US v. Hohn, Docket No. 14-3030 (April 1, 2015) (unpublished): Mr. Hohn objected to the evidence obtained by the warrantless attachment of a battery-operated GPS unit to his car. The officers testified they thought a battery-operated unit did not require a warrant, while a hard-wired unit did. The district court denied the motion, saying that even if the warrantless search was unreasonable, the officers acted in good faith. Accordingly, the motion to suppress was denied. The Tenth agreed. Officers could have reasonably relied on US v. Knotts, 460 US 276 (1983), and US v. Karo, 468 US 705 (1984), to believe that a battery operated GPS unit could be attached to defendant's car without a warrant.

In another search, Defendant's truck was searched when it was parked at a residence in which Mr. Hohn lived. The warrant was for the residence. The warrant for the residence was sufficient to allow a search of any vehicle actually or apparently owned by long-term residents of the premises.

It was ok for the government to use a composite photo of all the alleged co-conspirators for purposes of identifying them, especially since Mr. Hohn declined a limiting instruction.

The court also properly denied a motion for mistrial where (after evidence of this unrelated shoot-out was excluded pretrial) a witness inadvertently identified names in a notebook as "names of people involved in a shoot-out in Kingdom City." The judge's curative actions -- including talking to each juror individually and instructing them to disregard the statement -- was sufficient.

The two-level enhancement for "imported drugs" was supported by the evidence at sentencing. The fact that trial witnesses testified that the meth distributed in the conspiracy was obtained from individuals of Mexican origin or descent would not have been enough. However, in addition a sheriff's deputy testified the meth was of Mexican origin because meth is manufactured in larger quantities in Mexico than in the US, in Mexican "super labs"; Mexican meth is purer than US meth; and when meth is imported from Mexico, it is cut with a filler before distribution and this meth had been cut.