United States v. Comegys, 111412 FED3, 11-3630

Docket Nº:11-3630
Opinion Judge:ALDISERT, Circuit Judge.
Judge Panel:Before: SLOVITER, AMBRO and ALDISERT, Circuit Judges
Case Date:November 14, 2012
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit




No. 11-3630

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

November 14, 2012


Submitted under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) October 29, 2012

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Delaware (D.C. Criminal No. 1-08-cr-00160-001) District Judge: Hon. Gregory M. Sleet

Before: SLOVITER, AMBRO and ALDISERT, Circuit Judges


ALDISERT, Circuit Judge.

Anthony Butler Comegys appeals a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, in which a jury convicted Comegys for conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine and distribution of 500 grams or more of cocaine. The Court sentenced him to 120 months' imprisonment. Comegys's appeal presents three contentions-the District Court erred when it: (1) failed to suppress evidence seized after a traffic stop; (2) failed to grant Comegys's motion for judgment of acquittal pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure; and (3) admitted prejudicial information pertaining to a prior investigation of Comegys for matters unrelated to the case before the District Court. We disagree, and we will affirm the judgment of the District Court.


Because we write primarily for the parties, who are familiar with the facts and the proceedings in this case, we will revisit them only briefly.


During the District Court's evidentiary hearing on Comegys's motion to suppress evidence, the Government called Agent Rhett Campbell, who testified that on August 12, 2008 he stopped an automobile driven by Cassandra Norton, in which Comegys was riding as a passenger. Agent Campbell observed that the car was traveling at 76 miles per hour in a 70 miles-per-hour zone, and that the car slowed down and moved from the passing lane to the slow lane just after passing his marked patrol car. This lane change, according to Agent Campbell, was an unusual change in driving behavior that contributed to his decision to stop the car. Agent Campbell asked Norton to give him her license and step out of the car, leaving Comegys in the passenger seat. Norton admitted that she was speeding and Agent Campbell questioned Norton regarding her travel itinerary, which seemed improbable to Agent Campbell based on the distances covered and the direction of travel. Subsequently, Agent Campbell returned to the car to speak with Comegys, who according to Agent Campbell seemed nervous and panicked as he searched for the car-rental agreement. Comegys provided Agent Campbell with a different travel itinerary.

While Agent Campbell waited for the license, tag and rental information to be processed, he resumed his questioning of Norton, asking her if there was anything illegal in the car, such as drugs or guns. Norton gave oral consent to Agent Campbell to search the car. At this point, the traffic stop had lasted approximately 10 minutes. Agent Campbell asked Comegys about his prior arrest on charges of cocaine possession, and asked Comegys for permission to search the car. Comegys informed Agent Campbell that there were no drugs or weapons in the car, and orally consented to an automobile search. During his search of the passenger compartment, Agent Campbell found $17, 400 in cash inside Norton's purse. Norton claimed that she won the money playing a Las Vegas slot machine in Comegys's presence; Comegys, however, stated that Norton won the money playing roulette.

Approximately 21 minutes after initiating the traffic stop, Agent Campbell's partner arrived on the scene with consent-to-search forms, which Comegys and Norton signed, granting broad permission "to search the . . . vehicle . . . including any luggage, containers, and contents of all." App. I-12. The forms contained clear language stating that Norton and Comegys had the right to refuse to consent to the search. Agent Campbell found a vacuum food-sealing machine, Saran Wrap and plastic vacuum sealer bags in the trunk. He became increasingly suspicious that Norton and Comegys were involved in drug smuggling upon this discovery, as these items are frequently used by drug smugglers to avoid detection by drug-sniffing dogs. While searching luggage in the trunk, Agent Campbell discovered a pair of jeans and searched its pockets, revealing a receipt and confirmation slip for a U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail package, shipped from El Paso to Delaware and dated one day before the traffic stop. Agent Campbell photographed the receipt and confirmation slip and requested a drug-detecting K-9 unit, and returned the receipt and confirmation slip without notifying Comegys or Norton. Agent Campbell also found a new toaster, not in its box, in the trunk of the car.

When the K-9 unit arrived approximately one hour and 51 minutes after the initial stop, the drug-sniffing dog alerted to the presence of drug odor on the $17, 400 in cash and...

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