383 F.3d 700 (8th Cir. 2004), 03-3485, United States v. Smith

Docket Nº:03-3485.
Citation:383 F.3d 700
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Lamont O. SMITH, Appellant.
Case Date:September 03, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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383 F.3d 700 (8th Cir. 2004)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,


Lamont O. SMITH, Appellant.

No. 03-3485.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

September 3, 2004

Submitted: May 12, 2004.

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Counsel who presented argument on behalf of the appellant was John C. Vanderslice of Lincoln, NE.

Counsel who presented argument on behalf of the appellee was David W. Stempson, AUSA, of Lincoln, NE.

Before WOLLMAN, HEANEY, and MURPHY, Circuit Judges.

WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge.

Lamont Smith was convicted of one count of possession with the intent to distribute more than 50 grams of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841. He was sentenced by the district court1 to 120 months' imprisonment. On appeal, Smith argues (1) that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress and (2) that the district court erred in permitting a previously undisclosed witness to testify on rebuttal. We affirm.



On April 13, 2001, Hawthorne, California, police officer Melanie Newenham, who was participating in a "parcel interdiction" operation at a Federal Express ("FedEx") facility in Hawthorne, removed a suspicious looking package from a conveyor belt. After removing the package, she gave it to Detective Julian Catano, who, also believing the package to be suspicious, decided to submit it to a canine sniff. The dog alerted to the package, signifying that it contained illegal drugs. Detective Catano took the package to Lee Edwards, the FedEx facility manager, and told her that he suspected that the package contained drugs. Edwards asked whether Catano wanted her to open the package. Detective Catano testified that he told her that "if she wanted to open it that would be fine ...." Edwards opened the box, revealing a pair of children's rubber boots. Inside one of the boots, she found a ball of clear tape containing a white substance. Detective Catano and Officer Newenham took the package to the Hawthorne police station, where it and its contents were examined and photographed. The package was later resealed and returned to the FedEx facility for controlled shipment to the recipient address in Lincoln, Nebraska. Controlled delivery was executed at the recipient address, where the package was accepted by Smith, who identified himself by the alias "Sergio."

Smith moved to suppress the cocaine base found in the package. The district court denied the motion, adopting the recommendation of the magistrate

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judge.2 We review de novo the district court's interpretation of the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment, and we review for clear error its factual determinations. United States v. Lothridge, 332 F.3d 502, 503-04 (8th Cir. 2003).


Smith contends that Officer Newenham unlawfully seized the package. A law enforcement officer must have reasonable suspicion that a piece of mail, or a package shipped via a commercial carrier, contains contraband to lawfully seize it for investigative purposes. United States v. Johnson, 171 F.3d 601, 603 (8th Cir. 1999). Seizure occurs when a package is removed from its ordinary progress in the mail and is diverted for further investigation. Id. An officer has reasonable suspicion that a package contains contraband if she has "a particularized and objective basis" that is more than an "inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch." Id. (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968)). The officer must be able to explain the basis of her suspicion. Id. at 604. The officer may cite as the basis of her belief, however, facts which, alone and to an untrained eye, appear innocuous, but which, to a trained officer familiar with the methods of drug traffickers, are sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion. Id.; United States v. Demoss, 279 F.3d 632, 636 (8th Cir. 2002).

We turn to the question whether Officer Newenham had reasonable suspicion that the package contained contraband when she seized it. We conclude that she did. She was able to articulate a number of factors that led to her conclusion: the package was sent from California; it was a Sony cordless telephone box; its air bill was handwritten; it was shipped via overnight delivery; and it was marked for optional Saturday delivery. After lifting the package from the conveyor belt, which was not in and of itself a seizure, Demoss, 279 F.3d at 635, Newenham observed that the sender's address had been scratched out and rewritten and that the cost of shipping had been paid in cash. Taken individually, each of the foregoing facts is consistent with innocent conduct. Indeed, taken collectively, the coexistence of these characteristics might well be seen as innocent by the average citizen. Newenham's training and experience, however, gave her a reasonable basis for her determination that the package was suspicious. She knew that the package was shipped from a drug source state. She knew that the type of telephone is commonly available throughout the United States, and she was therefore suspicious as to why someone would choose to ship one via FedEx, especially given the high cost of overnight and Saturday delivery--approximately $35 for shipping versus approximately $60 for the phone. She knew that drug traffickers commonly use overnight and Saturday delivery to minimize the amount of time illicit materials are subject to investigation by the shipping company. She knew that drug traffickers commonly wait until the last possible moment to address packages containing drugs by hand to reduce the likelihood that the recipient's address will be discovered if the shipper is stopped by a law enforcement officer. She thought it suspicious that a sender would make an error in writing his or her own address. And she knew from her training and experience that drug traffickers often pay for shipping in cash. These facts provided Newenham with a "particularized and objective

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basis" for seizing the package, and thus she did not act on the basis of some "inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch." Terry, 392 U.S. at 27, 88 S.Ct. 1868; United States v. Logan, 362 F.3d 530, 533-34 (8th Cir. 2004) (noting that drug source state, overnight shipping, and handwritten air bill contribute to finding of reasonable suspicion that a package contained...

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