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United States v. Daniels

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 10, 2019

LAZANDY DANIELS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

          Before KING, SMITH, and WILLETT, Circuit Judges.


         A jury convicted Lazandy Daniels of distributing crack cocaine, aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, and conspiring to distribute powder and crack cocaine. Daniels asserts three errors: (1) the district court wrongly denied his motion to suppress evidence; (2) the district court wrongly denied him the opportunity to cross-examine an adverse witness in violation of the Sixth Amendment; and (3) the trial evidence was insufficient to convict him. We reject Daniels's arguments and AFFIRM his convictions.



         This story starts with Craig James, a cocaine dealer who made his living transporting drugs and money between Houston and New Orleans. The defendant, Daniels, met James through his brother, Lindsey Daniels. Lindsey was a middle man, purchasing cocaine from James and then turning around and reselling it. As part of their partnership, Lindsey let James use his New Orleans salvage yard for transporting drugs. James would buy cars at auction in one city, store cocaine in them, and transport the cars to the other city. He also used this strategy to move money.

         The law eventually caught up with Lindsey. But James continued to use the salvage yard. Daniels started working more closely with James, helping him unload the cocaine from the cars and pack them with money before they returned to Houston. Sometimes Daniels was around when James distributed the drugs, and he would help James package the concomitant cash in cellophane. Daniels even dabbled in the drug game himself: James testified (and others confirmed) that he occasionally gave Daniels small amounts of cocaine to sell.

         Besides helping James move cocaine, Daniels acted as James's chauffeur. When James was in New Orleans, Daniels would "[t]ake [James] to go get food, pick [him] up from the airport, take [him] to [his] hotel room, things like that." James said he asked Daniels to carry out these tasks because Daniels "was a friend . . . . It wasn't just all business. He was a friend. I trusted him."

         May 4, 2015 State Arrest

         In May 2015, Daniels was arrested for selling crack cocaine outside his house. While conducting surveillance as part of a street-level narcotics investigation, New Orleans police Sergeant Joseph Davis noticed a woman in a white SUV stop her car, step out, and approach Daniels, who was standing on the street. She handed something to Daniels, who went into his house. Daniels came back out and handed her another object; then she got back into her car.

         Suspicious, Davis followed the SUV and radioed his fellow officers to pull it over. While attempting to do so, Officer Jeraire Bridges saw the woman drop a small item from her window. Once the woman had pulled over, Bridges retrieved the dropped item. It appeared (and was later confirmed) to be a plastic bag of crack cocaine. The officers arrested the woman.

         Later that day, New Orleans police officers arrested Daniels. The officers found him sitting in a pickup truck outside his house. The officers searched the truck and the house, finding $2, 325 in cash in the vehicle, a video recording system monitoring the residence, and what turned out to be cocaine residue in a mug in the house. Daniels was charged in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court with possession with the intent to distribute cocaine.

         December 2, 2015 Drug Enforcement Agency Arrest

         These December incidents were initially unrelated to Daniels's May arrest-they arose out of the DEA's separate surveillance spearheaded by Agents Justin Moran and Christopher Johnson. Thanks to a confidential tip, the DEA learned that James was coming to New Orleans in early December to collect some money. Upon his arrival, James took a taxi to the Super 8 Motel on Chef Menteur Highway and rented a room.

         James testified that on December 1, 2015, a friend paid him an evening visit, bringing James a duffle bag filled with various drug paraphernalia, including a scale and cowboy boots stuffed with a cutting agent. Daniels came by that evening and the next morning to "check on" James. Around noon, Daniels left to go to his brother's salvage yard. He returned around 12:34 p.m. Before entering the motel, he retrieved from his trunk a long, thin item that he kept under his jacket. The concealed item was a roll of cellophane for wrapping cash, but the surveilling DEA agents thought it might be a weapon.

         Around 2:00 p.m., James's brother-in-law, Joppa Jackson (whom the DEA agents recognized from previous narcotics investigations), came to the motel in his pickup truck. James left Daniels in the motel room and got into the pickup, which never left the parking lot. After a bit, James got out of the truck with a bag of money, repayment for cocaine James had given Joppa.

         Eight minutes later, Daniels and James left the motel to dine at a restaurant for a couple hours. The pair returned to the motel room in the late afternoon. At around 6:40 p.m., Leon Jackson, James's other brother-in-law, arrived. When Leon exited the motel, DEA Agent Demond Lockhart approached him to perform an investigatory stop. Agent Lockhart searched Leon's bag and vehicle and hit the jackpot: several thousand dollars. The Knock-and-Talk

         After interviewing Leon Jackson, the DEA agents decided to do a "knock-and-talk," (when officers knock on a door, contact the resident, and ask to search the residence). As he approached the room, DEA Agent Michael Greaves could smell marijuana. Agent Greaves knocked on the door, and James asked who was there. Greaves initially pretended that he had hit James's car. James did not open the door. Greaves then announced that he was with the police and asked James to open the door so they could talk.

         After knocking for two minutes, Greaves heard Moran, who was standing to his left by the motel-room's window, say that he could hear the toilet flushing. Greaves, inferring that James was destroying evidence, decided to kick down the door. DEA Agent Kevin Treigle searched the bathroom, finding Daniels seated on the toilet, fully clothed, with the seat cover down.

         In the room, the officers found a long roll of cellophane, a plastic bag filled with cutting agent, a black duffle bag with lots of cash, much of which was wrapped in cellophane, a digital scale, and crack cocaine. They seized approximately $286, 000 and approximately six ounces of crack cocaine.


         Daniels was charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms or more of powder cocaine and 28 grams or more of crack cocaine; one count of distributing crack cocaine on May 4, 2015; and one count of possessing with intent to distribute 28 grams or more of crack cocaine on December 2, 2015.

         Daniels moved to suppress the motel-search evidence, arguing that no exigency supported the warrantless search. The district court conducted a suppression hearing. Several DEA agents testified regarding the knock-and-talk and resulting search. Pertinently, DEA Agent Francisco Del Valle testified that he had heard the toilet flush while Agent Greaves was knocking on the motel-room door. Daniels had the opportunity to cross-examine each of the Government's witnesses.

         Daniels also attempted to subpoena Agent Moran to have him testify at the hearing. At the time, Moran was under investigation for misconduct, and he asserted his Fifth Amendment rights. Although the court did not require Moran to testify, it allowed Daniels's counsel to explain what he wanted to ask Moran.

         The district court denied Daniels's motion to suppress, holding that he didn't have standing to challenge the motel-room search because there was no evidence indicating he intended to stay overnight. And even if Daniels had standing, the Fourth Amendment's exigency exception permitted the search. The flushing sounds gave the officers "probable cause to believe that there was evidence of criminal activity in the room, and that the evidence was being destroyed."

         In preparation for trial, the Government filed a motion in limine to preclude Daniels from attacking the credibility of its witnesses based on Agent Moran's alleged misconduct. The Government asked the court to prohibit Daniels from "[i]nflaming the [j]ury" by referencing the investigation during trial, arguing that it was irrelevant. The district court granted the motion, finding Moran's alleged misconduct "unrelated to the matter at hand."

         The case went before a jury. The Government called twelve witnesses, among them Agents Greaves and Treigle (the New Orleans police officers involved in the May 4 arrest) and Daniels's alleged co-conspirators, Joppa Jackson and James. At the close of the Government's case in chief, Daniels moved for judgment of acquittal, which the court denied. Daniels submitted several exhibits to the jury, but he did not testify in his own defense or call any witnesses to testify. The jury found Daniels guilty of all three counts. The court sentenced Daniels to 240 months' imprisonment as to all three counts, to be served concurrently, and ten years of supervised release. Daniels appealed.[1]


         The district court had jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. § 3231. And we have appellate jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.



         First, Daniels challenges the district court's denial of his motion to suppress the evidence from the motel-room search. "When a district court denies a motion to suppress evidence, we review the factual findings for clear error and legal conclusions . . . de novo."[2] And we may affirm the decision below "on any basis established by the record."[3] The burden is on Daniels to prove, "by a preponderance of the evidence, that the evidence in question was obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights."[4]

         "The exclusionary rule allows a defendant to suppress the evidentiary fruits of a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights" to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.[5] Although "searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable, "[6] an officer may search a person's property if "'the exigencies of the situation' make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that [a] warrantless search is objectively reasonable."[7] A valid exigency exists when an officer believes that evidence is being destroyed- although an officer "may not rely on the need to prevent destruction of evidence when that exigency was 'created' or 'manufactured' by the conduct of the police."[8] In other words, an officer may not "engag[e] or threaten[] to engage in conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment" in order to create an exigency justifying warrantless entry.[9]

         Assuming without deciding the issue of standing, we will first address whether there was an exigency justifying the search.[10] To do ...

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