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Convicted drug dealer loses 7th Circuit appeal

September 5, 2018

A Marion County man convicted of six drug, firearm and money laundering charges has lost his appeal before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found no constitutional violation in the length of the traffic stop that led to his arrest.

In United States of America v. Daniel Stewart, 16-4105, Daniel Stewart was arrested in January 2015 after officers witnessed a presumed drug buy between Stewart and another man. Officers subsequently pulled Stewart over for a traffic violation and Detective Brady Ball began asking a series of questions, some of which were routine and others more probing, such as whether Ball had ever been arrested.

During the stop, Ball radioed for backup, indicating he wanted to run his drug dog around the car. The backup officers arrived about 13 minutes into the stop, and the dog, Josie, alerted on the car in less than two minutes.

Ball then conducted a search of the car and almost immediately discovered a handgun in the console, despite Stewart earlier claiming not to have any weapons. Stewart had also indicated earlier in the stop that he had previously been arrested on drug charges, so Ball arrested him for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Ball then continued his search and found cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and more than $9,000 in cash. Stewart was subsequently transferred to the police station, where he made a series of incriminating statements. Meanwhile, law enforcement searched his home and found additional drugs, guns and cash.

During his ensuing trial, Stewart moved to suppress the evidence found during the traffic stop and the confession he gave at the police station, but the Indiana Southern District Court denied him on both accounts. He was then found guilty as charged on six counts and sentenced to life without parole.

The 7th Circuit upheld Stewart’s convictions on Wednesday, rejecting his argument that the district court erred in admitting the evidence found during the traffic stop and his confession. Specifically, Judge Ilana Rovner said Stewart’s argument that Ball unconstitutionally prolonged the traffic stop failed because he failed to timely object to the prolonged stop during trial.

Waiver aside, the court still found the admission of the evidence permissible, noting “Ball was actively engaged in conducting the traffic stop before handing off the ticket (to a backup officer), and that another officer continued that mission while Ball ran Josie around the Volkswagen.”

“In other words, the sniff was conducted contemporaneously with the traffic mission of the stop,” Rovner wrote, referencing a standard laid out in Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015). Thus, the court also rejected Stewart’s fruit of the poisonous tree argument.

The appellate panel likewise upheld the admission of Stewart’s confession at trial. Though Stewart claimed he invoked his right to remain silent by appearing to shake his head “no” when asked if he wanted to speak to a detective about the drugs found in his car, Rovner noted Stewart was read his Miranda rights three times during the arrest, once before he seemed to shake his head and twice after.

“A reasonable officer would have understood Stewart’s apparent nod to mean that he might be invoking his right to remain silent, and such an officer would not be required to cease questioning if the suspect refused to clarify,” she wrote.

Finally, the court rejected Stewart’s argument that the evidence was insufficient to support his money laundering conviction, pointing to a “scam” business he created as a place to deposit the money he earned from drug sales. The court also struck down his challenge to “prejudicial and irrelevant” evidence, finding the government’s case “would have been no less persuasive had the challenged evidence been excluded.”

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