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United States v. Petercompton

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

July 19, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
PETERCOMPTON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: February 24, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. No. 8:13-CR-405 – Norman A. Mordue, Judge.

          Molly K. Corbett, Research & Writing Attorney (Paul J. Evangelista, Assistant Federal Public Defender, on the brief), for Lisa A. Peebles, Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of New York, Albany, NY, for Defendant-Appellant.

          Steven D. Clymer, Assistant United States Attorney (Katherine Kopita, Assistant United States Attorney, on the brief), for Richard S. Hartunian, United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York, Syracuse, NY, for Appellee.

          Before: Walker, Raggi, and Hall, Circuit Judges.

          John M. Walker, Jr., Circuit Judge.

         Defendant-Appellant Peter Compton appeals from the judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Mordue, J.) denying his motion to suppress 145 pounds of marijuana discovered in his vehicle by United States Border Patrol ("Border Patrol") agents. Compton argues that the agents seized him and searched his vehicle in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. We agree with the district court that the agents had reasonable suspicion to conduct a Terry stop of Compton, see Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), and that the agents did not unreasonably extend the stop. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the district court's judgment denying the motion to suppress the physical evidence.

         BACKGROUND

         On August 22, 2013, at approximately 7:30 a.m., Border Patrol agents set up an immigration checkpoint near the Canadian border on State Route 11 in Chateaugay, New York. Approximately .5 miles west of the checkpoint, at the crest of a hill and on the north side of the road, there was a vegetable stand. The stand was "not manned" and only "[i]ntermittently active." App. 61, 79. Shortly before passing the vegetable stand, eastbound drivers coming over the hill would be able to see for the first time the vegetable stand and a sign alerting them to the checkpoint.

         At approximately 8:00 a.m., Compton and his brother were traveling eastbound on Route 11 in their mother's green Ford sport utility vehicle ("SUV"). Compton sat in the front passenger seat while his brother drove.

         Border Patrol Agent David Gottschall had parked his marked Border Patrol vehicle on the north side of Route 11, facing the road, between the checkpoint and the vegetable stand. From this position-approximately .35 miles west of the checkpoint and approximately .15 miles east of the stand-Gottschall could monitor eastbound traffic through his passenger side window. He observed Compton's SUV come over the crest of the hill, abruptly slow down, and veer into the U-shaped driveway of the vegetable stand.

         Gottschall then received a telephone call from fellow Border Patrol Agent Daniel Taylor, who was stationed at the checkpoint. Taylor told Gottschall that a motorist entering the checkpoint had just reported that the SUV had passed her vehicle and then immediately slowed down upon reaching the crest of the hill.

         After receiving the call from Taylor, Gottschall drove to the vegetable stand and parked behind the SUV. The SUV was unoccupied. He then saw Compton and his brother walking away from the vegetable stand approximately fifteen to twenty feet apart from one another. Each of the two men held a pint of peppers.

         Gottschall ordered Compton and his brother to return to their vehicle, where he began to question them. Gottschall asked the men for identification and tried to find out why they had turned off the road so abruptly. Gottschall then walked back towards his Border Patrol vehicle, intending to run checks on the brothers' identities and the SUV's license plate. As he passed the rear seat of the SUV, he noticed a blanket in the back that appeared to be concealing something. Gottschall later testified at the suppression hearing that, in his experience, "blankets are commonly used to conceal humans, " to "conceal cigarettes" or, more generally, "to prevent the plain view observation of law enforcement." App. 62.

         Suspecting that the blanket in the SUV "either concealed humans or narcotics or something to that effect, " id., Gottschall contacted Taylor and asked him to bring a canine to the SUV. Taylor brought his canine, Tiko, to the SUV in less than a minute.

         Gottschall and Taylor informed the brothers that the Border Patrol would be performing a canine sniff, removed the brothers from the SUV, and led Tiko around the SUV. The canine sniff took no more than five minutes, and during this time Compton and his brother sat handcuffed inside separate Border Patrol vehicles.

         Tiko alerted at the SUV's rear door. After Taylor opened the door, Tiko entered the SUV and alerted to four duffle bags. The Border Patrol agents then informed Compton and his brother that they were under arrest. The Border Patrol later found that the four duffel bags contained approximately 145 pounds of marijuana.

         On October 23, 2013, a grand jury indicted Compton and his brother on two counts. Count One charged the brothers with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. Count Two charged the brothers with possession with intent to distribute 50 kilograms or more of marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1).

         On May 1, 2014, Compton moved to suppress statements as well as physical evidence obtained during the stop and seizure. He argued that the Border Patrol had lacked reasonable suspicion to detain him and had extended the detention unreasonably. He also argued that, when the agents handcuffed him and placed him in a Border ...


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