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United States v. Lyle

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

May 9, 2017

United States of America, Appellee,
v.
James Lyle, AKA Sealed Defendant 3, Michael Van Praagh, AKA Sealed Defendant 1, Defendants-Appellants, Anthony Tarantino, AKA Sealed Defendant 2, Defendant.

          Argued: January 12, 2017

         On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York[*]

         Consolidated appeals from judgments of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Crotty, J.) entered after defendants- appellants James Lyle and Michael Van Praagh were convicted at trial of charges relating to drug trafficking. Lyle challenges the admission of (1) physical evidence obtained pursuant to warrantless searches and (2) his post-arrest and proffer statements. Van Praagh challenges (1) the sufficiency of the evidence of conspiracy, (2) the admission of Lyle's post-arrest and proffer statements in their joint trial, and (3) the reasonableness of his sentence.

          MICHAEL FERRARA, Assistant United States Attorney (Brendan F. Quigley, Assistant United States Attorney, on the brief), for Joon H. Kim, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York, New York, for Appellee.

          DANIEL S. NOOTER (Thomas H. Nooter, on the brief), Freeman Nooter & Ginsberg, New York, New York, for Defendant-Appellant James Lyle.

          MARSHAR. TAUBENHAUS, Law Offices of Marsha R. Taubenhaus, New York, New York, for Defendant-Appellant Michael Van Praagh.

          Before: Raggi, Chin, and Lohier, Circuit Judges.

          Chin, Circuit Judge.

         Defendants-appellants James Lyle and Michael Van Praagh appeal from judgments of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Crotty, J.) convicting them on charges relating to the distribution of methamphetamine. Lyle challenges the admission at trial of evidence seized during a December 11, 2013 inventory search of a rental car and a January 9, 2014 search of his hotel room. He also challenges the admission at trial of certain post- arrest and proffer statements. Van Praagh challenges the sufficiency of the evidence of his participation in a methamphetamine distribution conspiracy, the admission of Lyle's post-arrest and proffer statements in their joint trial, and the reasonableness of his sentence. Because we conclude that the evidence at trial was sufficient to support all convictions, the challenged searches and seizures did not violate the Fourth Amendment, the admission of Lyle's statements did not violate the Fifth Amendment, and Van Praagh's sentence was reasonable, we affirm the judgments of the district court.

         BACKGROUND

         I. The Facts

         Because Van Praagh and Lyle appeal convictions following a jury trial, we view the evidence in ''the light most favorable to the government, crediting any inferences that the jury might have drawn in its favor.'' United States v. Rosemond, 841 F.3d 95, 99-100 (2d Cir. 2016) (quoting United States v. Dhinsa, 243 F.3d 635, 643 (2d Cir. 2001)).

         A. Overview

         Throughout 2013, Van Praagh regularly sold pound quantities of methamphetamine. These deals generally occurred once a week and often took place in Manhattan hotels. Van Praagh also sold smaller quantities of methamphetamine out of his apartment in Queens and through in-person deliveries to his customers. Brandon Hodges, an Arizona-based methamphetamine supplier, sent Van Praagh methamphetamine on three or four occasions during this time, with the largest shipment containing four ounces of methamphetamine. Van Praagh regularly sold methamphetamine to Lyle, who was also a methamphetamine dealer in the New York area. Lyle regularly sold methamphetamine to Anthony Tarantino. Tarantino initially purchased methamphetamine for personal use, but eventually starting selling small quantities of methamphetamine to his own clients. Both Hodges and Tarantino cooperated with the government and testified at trial.

         In January 2013, Lyle introduced Tarantino to Van Praagh. Tarantino accompanied Lyle to Van Praagh's apartment so that Lyle could restock his methamphetamine supply. While at Van Praagh's apartment, Tarantino saw Lyle purchase methamphetamine from Van Praagh, which Lyle later sold to Tarantino. In April 2013, Lyle took Tarantino to Van Praagh's apartment a second time, where Tarantino again observed Lyle "re-up, " i.e., purchase methamphetamine, from Van Praagh. After this second visit, Tarantino and Van Praagh became romantically involved, and eventually Tarantino moved in with Van Praagh and began helping him sell methamphetamine.

         B. The Seizure of Methamphetamine from Van Praagh's Hotel Room

         On May 29, 2013, Van Praagh and Tarantino checked into the Out Hotel in midtown Manhattan. That night, they sold pound quantities of methamphetamine to several customers, including Lyle. The next day, they checked out of the hotel but accidentally left approximately a pound of methamphetamine and $20, 000 cash in the hotel room safe. Hotel staff found the drugs and money and called the New York City Police Department (''NYPD''), and officers arrived to seize the drugs and cash. After Van Praagh realized his mistake later that day, he returned to the hotel, where he was arrested by the NYPD. During the arrest, the officers seized a cellular phone and over $1, 000 cash from Van Praagh's pocket. The officers also searched Van Praagh's Vespa scooter parked outside the hotel, where they found part of and packaging for a digital scale.

         Soon thereafter, Tarantino brought Lyle money to give to Van Praagh's father to bail Van Praagh out of jail. The day after Van Praagh got out of jail, he and Tarantino flew to Arizona to ensure that Van Praagh's methamphetamine suppliers would continue to sell to him. Van Praagh and Tarantino returned to New York and continued their sale of methamphetamine.

         C. Lyle's Arrests

         On December 11, 2013, NYPD officers observed Lyle park and exit a car in midtown Manhattan. The officers noticed a knife clipped to Lyle's pants, which they later determined to be an illegal gravity knife. The officers approached Lyle as he was closing the trunk of the car. Lyle told the officers that he was legally permitted to carry a gravity knife because he was a member of the stagehands union and used the knife to perform his job. Lyle initially said he had not driven the car but when the officers informed him that they had seen him driving it, Lyle admitted as much. When asked for identification, Lyle produced a New York State ID with the expiration date scratched off. The officers confirmed that Lyle's driver's license was suspended. The officers also determined that the vehicle Lyle was driving was a rental car and that Lyle was not an authorized driver under the rental agreement. Lyle claimed that his girlfriend had rented the car and had given him permission to drive it. The officers arrested Lyle for driving with a suspended license and for possessing an illegal knife.

         Before heading to the station for processing, Lyle asked if the car could be left at the location and stated that his girlfriend would pick it up. The officers denied the request and impounded the vehicle. At the police precinct, an inventory search was conducted. Over one pound of methamphetamine and approximately $39, 000 cash were found in the trunk of the car.

         The following day -- December 12, 2013 -- Lyle was brought to the District Attorney's Office where he made certain statements in custody after being read his Miranda rights. When asked about the methamphetamine that was in the trunk of the rental car, Lyle stated that ''an individual . . . had contacted him and asked him to hold something for him.'' Tr. 435.[1] He stated that upon meeting with that individual and another individual, he stayed in the car and did not see what was placed in the trunk but presumed it to be drugs because the individual that he was meeting with was known to distribute large quantities of methamphetamine in the New York area. When asked about his relationship with these two individuals, Lyle stated that he was friends with them, and had eventually begun working with one of them in delivering methamphetamine to the individual's customers.

         Lyle stated that the person in charge had a source of supply in Arizona named either Brendan or Brandon. Lyle also ''provided a few names'' of other people in the New York area who distributed large quantities of methamphetamine. Tr. 436.

         On January 9, 2014, police in East Windsor, New Jersey responded to an anonymous call that people were using methamphetamine in a hotel room. When they got to the hotel room, Lyle opened the door and invited the officers inside. The officers heard the toilet flush and saw Lyle's girlfriend come out of the bathroom. The officers observed a torch lighter on the bathroom shelf, a small clear bag next to the trash can, and a partial clear straw wrapper containing white residue on the bathroom floor. Additionally, they observed a towel under the bathroom doorway. In the bedroom, the officers noticed that a clear bag had been affixed to the smoke detector with rubber bands.

         Officers then performed a consent search of the room, and found approximately fourteen grams of methamphetamine, $3, 270 cash, a digital scale, and numerous plastic baggies. Lyle and his girlfriend were both arrested.

         II. The Proceedings Below

         A. The Indictment and Van Praagh's Arrest

         Van Praagh, Lyle, and Tarantino were indicted on March 20, 2014. On March 31, 2014, Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") agents arrested Van Praagh at his apartment. After receiving consent to search the apartment, agents found tools used to sell drugs, including a heat-sealer, packaging materials, and multiple scales, and a note from Hodges asking Van Praagh to have Lyle call him.

         On April 6, 2013 Van Praagh called his father from jail and told him, in a recorded call, ''they got nothing . . . . I sterilized the house like I told you.'' Supp. App. 104. He also told him, ''[t]hey got Anthony [Tarantino], but I'm expecting that he'll be disappearing any day now . . . . I believe that he had been talking.'' Supp. App. 105.

         B. Lyle's Proffer Session

         On April 7, 2014, Lyle participated in a proffer session with the government in hope of reaching a cooperation agreement. A proffer agreement was executed, stipulating that the government would not use any of Lyle's statements made during the proffer sessions against him, except ''to rebut any evidence or arguments offered by or on behalf of [Lyle].'' Lyle App. 36.

         During the proffer session, Lyle admitted that (1) around 2011 or 2012, he sometimes stayed with Van Praagh while working on projects in New York City; (2) he observed Van Praagh smoking and using methamphetamine; (3) he occasionally delivered packages to Van Praagh's clients; (4) he accompanied Van Praagh to deliver methamphetamine thirty to fifty times; (5) Van Praagh told Lyle his supplier was in Arizona; and (6) on one occasion, Lyle accompanied Van Praagh to pick up methamphetamine from a library in New York City.

         C. The Superseding Indictment and Pretrial Motions

         A superseding indictment was filed September 30, 2014, charging (1) Van Praagh and Lyle with conspiring to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(A), from December 2012 to January 2014; (2) Van Praagh with distributing and possessing with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B), on or about May 30, 2013; and (3) Lyle with distributing and possessing with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B), on or about December 11, 2013.

         Before trial, Lyle moved to suppress the physical evidence recovered from the search of the automobile, as well as his subsequent post-arrest statements. In an affidavit filed in support of the motion, Lyle admitted that (1) just prior to his arrest, he had been driving the car that had been rented by his girlfriend with her permission; (2) he possessed a gravity knife that day; (3) he initially told the police officers he had not been driving the car but later admitted to driving the car; and (4) his license was suspended at the time.

         On September 11, 2014, the district court held an evidentiary hearing on the voluntariness of Lyle's post-arrest statements and, on October 1, 2014, the court denied Lyle's motion to suppress. The court found there was probable cause for Lyle's arrest, based on his possession of a gravity knife. The court then concluded that the search of the rental car was justified on two independent bases. First, Lyle had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the rental car because he was not an authorized driver under the rental agreement. Second, the search of the rental car was a valid inventory search. The court also found that Lyle's post-arrest statements were made voluntarily and pursuant to a valid Miranda waiver.

         D. ...


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