7th Circuit affirms denied motion to suppress $2M, trafficked drugs from search

A man involved in a multimillion-dollar drug trafficking ring did not convince the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that his motion to suppress hefty amounts of drugs and cash found in his hotel room should have been granted.

Dewayne Lewis was a distributor in a drug trafficking operation whose leader, Allan Bates, fled to Mexico after the FBI served search warrants in Indiana, Ohio, and Texas in connection with a 2015 investigation.

Bates had told Lewis that he and an associate, Chris Cook, needed to retrieve more than $1 million and 20 kilograms of cocaine from a barn they stashed their goods in located in Butler, Indiana.

Lewis and Cook did as Bates instructed, and Lewis told Bates that there were only 19 kilograms. At Bates’ direction, Cook kept $60,000 in cash, and Lewis transferred the remaining cash and drugs to his own car.

An FBI informant then passed along Lewis’ cell phone number to law enforcement and the government obtained a tracking order pursuant to the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d).

Location information from Lewis’ cell phone provider showed that his device was within a 1,099-meter radius of Greenwood. From there, officers searched parking lots and hotels where a deal might take place.

Law enforcement eventually saw a woman resembling Lewis’ wife enter a room at a hotel, drop off a duffel bag and drive away in a car registered in Lewis’ name.

After a drug-sniffing dog alerted police in the hallway outside the room, officers applied for a search warrant. The team executed the warrant the same day.

Inside the room, officers found Lewis, $2 million in cash, and 19.8 kilograms of cocaine. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana found Lewis guilty of possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine.

On appeal, Lewis argued that the dog sniff violated his reasonable expectation of privacy, and in the alternative that the application for the § 2703(d) order lacked probable cause. He also argued that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to convict him.

In affirming the district court, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found Lewis lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the exterior hallway of his hotel. It noted that the exterior hallway of a Red Roof Inn is “even farther afield from a front porch than an interior apartment hallway” and therefore there was no search under the property-based approach.

The 7th Circuit found Lewis fared no better under the privacy-based approach.

“If hotel guests have only a limited right to exclude hotel staff from a room, then it is hard to see how guests at the Red Roof Inn could reasonably expect to be free of dog sniffs in the exterior hallway,” 7th Circuit Judge Amy St. Eve wrote.

As for the § 2703(d) order, the 7th Circuit concluded that Lewis’ argument that it relied on inaccurate information lacks merit because the good-faith exception applies.

The appellate court declined to assess the sufficient of the remaining evidence and concluded that regardless of whether the government’s use of real-time CSLI amounted to a search, the good-faith exception applies in light of United States v. Hammond, 996 F.3d 374, 383 (7th Cir. 2021).

The court also denied Lewis’s argument that the officers should have ceased their investigation when they learned that the intended target was not born in 1977.

“From what we can tell, the only discrepancy that the officers knew of on the afternoon of February 3 was Lewis’s birth year …. A three-year difference in birth year, alone, did not require them to stop searching and report to the magistrate judge,” St. Eve wrote. “Regardless, any belatedly discovered errors in the § 2703(d) affidavit were attenuated from the events that led to Lewis’s eventual arrest.”

The case is United States of America v. Dewayne Lewis, 21-1614.

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