201 F.3d 1317 (11th Cir. 2000), 98-2100, United States v Smith

Docket Nº:98-2100.
Citation:201 F.3d 1317
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Ruvel Alfred SMITH, Jr., a.k.a. Rube Smith, etc., Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:January 27, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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201 F.3d 1317 (11th Cir. 2000)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Ruvel Alfred SMITH, Jr., a.k.a. Rube Smith, etc., Defendant-Appellant.

No. 98-2100.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

January 27, 2000

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. (no. 97-00120-CR-J_21B), Ralph W. Nimmons, Jr., Judge.

Before EDMONDSON and MARCUS, Circuit Judges, and STROM[*], Senior District Judge.

EDMONDSON, Circuit Judge:

Defendant, Ruvel Alfred Smith, Jr., appeals his convictions for conspiring to distribute cocaine and possessing cocaine with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846. Defendant asserts that the district court erred in denying Defendant's motion to suppress. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

This case arises from a bus check at a Jacksonville, Florida, bus station. On 5 May 1997, DEA Special Agent Bruce Savell and Border Patrol Agent James Perkins were conducting narcotics-interdiction surveillance at the bus station. Savell, inside the bus terminal, noticed Defendant's co-indictee, Joseph Tee Bruton. According to Savell, Bruton constantly changed seats, walked around, and scanned the terminal. Bruton watched every passenger who walked through the terminal. Bruton appeared nervous. Savell also noticed two new, hard-sided, suitcases sitting unattended in the terminal. The suitcases appeared to be expensive. Savell observed Bruton and the suitcases for approximately forty minutes.

At some point, Bruton met with Defendant inside the terminal. The two men engaged in a quick, whispered conversation. Defendant and Bruton then turned away from each other and walked in opposite directions. After this exchange, Savell began to observe Defendant. Savell noted

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that Defendant also walked around the terminal, switched seats, and went in and out of the terminal.

Soon thereafter, Bruton sat down with the previously unattended suitcases between his legs. A boarding announcement was made for a northbound bus, and Bruton picked up the suitcases and walked toward the boarding gate. As he approached the gate, Bruton slid one suitcase across the terminal floor to Defendant. Bruton and Defendant each carried one suitcase through the gate.

Agent Savell waited for about four minutes and then went through the boarding gate. Savell saw the two suitcases in the undercarriage of the bus. He checked the baggage tags attached to the suitcases; the tags revealed that the suitcases belonged to a "Mr. Pender" and had originated in Miami, Florida.

At that point, based on his training and experience,1 Savell suspected that Defendant and Bruton were carrying drugs in the suitcases.2 Savell requested and obtained the bus driver's permission to board the bus and to conduct a bus check. Savell and Perkins, although dressed in plainclothes, displayed their badges as they boarded the bus. The agents' firearms were concealed. Perkins announced to the passengers:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, my partner and I are both federal agents of the United States Department of Justice. Nobody is under arrest or anything like that, we're just conducting a routine public transportation safety check. When we get to you, if you would please show us your bus ticket, some photo identification, if you have some with you, please. And, most importantly, if you would identify which bags are yours on the bus, we'd appreciate it, and we'll be out of your way real quick.

Neither Savell nor Perkins expressly informed the passengers that their cooperation was voluntary. The agents then, beginning in the back of the bus and making their way forward, spoke individually with each passenger. The agents, in addition to inspecting each passenger's ticket and identification, asked each passenger whether the passenger was carrying weapons, drugs, or large amounts of money. The agents stood behind each passenger and did not block the aisle of (or exit from) the bus as they conducted their bus check. The check of passengers failed to reveal a "Mr. Pender" aboard the bus.

When approached by the agents, Defendant offered a one-way ticket from Miami to Charleston, South Carolina, and a driver's license for the agents' inspection. Bruton also displayed a ticket from Miami to Charleston; Bruton said that he was carrying no identification. Defendant and Bruton each denied that he was carrying drugs or weapons, that he had checked luggage, and that he was traveling with anyone. Defendant and Bruton permitted the agents to search their carry-on luggage. The agents frisked Defendant and Bruton, but they found no weapons.

After the agents completed their survey of the passengers, Savell retrieved the two pertinent suitcases from the undercarriage and brought them aboard the bus. Savell asked whether a passenger claimed...

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