United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
May 20, 2016
from the United States District Court for the District of
Columbia (No. 1:11-cr-00213-1)
William Francis Xavier Becker, appointed by the court, argued
the cause and filed the briefs for appellant.
R. Bates, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for
appellee. With her on the brief were Elizabeth Trosman and
Elizabeth H. Danello, Assistant U.S. Attorneys.
Before: Millett, Circuit Judge, and Ginsburg and Sentelle,
Senior Circuit Judges.
Millett Circuit Judge
convicted Dante Sheffield of unlawful possession of 100 grams
or more of phencyclidine (PCP) with intent to distribute, in
violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a) and (b)(1)(B)(iv). Based
in part on its application of a career-offender enhancement,
the district court sentenced Sheffield to 230 months in
challenges both his conviction and sentence, arguing that the
district court erred in (i) denying his motion to suppress
the PCP discovered during the search of a car in which he was
a passenger, (ii) refusing to suppress statements he made
following his arrest but before he received his
Miranda warnings, (iii) admitting evidence of a
decade-old drug conviction, (iv) denying his post-trial
motion for independent testing of the drug evidence, and (v)
applying the career-offender enhancement at sentencing. We
affirm the judgment of conviction, but we reverse the
district court's imposition of the career-offender
enhancement, vacate Sheffield's sentence, and remand to
the district court for resentencing.
evening of June 8, 2011, Metropolitan Police Department
Detectives Christopher Smith and Michael Iannacchione, along
with two other officers, were driving in an unmarked police
car through the 2300 block of 11th Street, N.W., in
Washington, D.C. Detective Smith spotted Dante Sheffield,
whom he and the other officers recognized from an earlier PCP
investigation in the area. The officers then observed
Sheffield and an unknown male enter a car with tinted
windows. One of the officers told Detective Smith that
"he wanted to at least make a contact just to see who
the [un]identified * * * male was." Supp. App. 7. Before
they did so, however, they witnessed the car "pull * *
* slightly forward and ma[ke] a sharp left without using a
turn signal into an alleyway[.]" Id. at 8. The
officers followed closely behind the car, which then made a
right turn out of the alley "without using its
signal." Id. At that point, the officers
initiated a traffic stop.
four officers approached the vehicle, two on each side of the
car. After asking the occupants to roll down the windows
because of the tinting, Detective Smith observed a woman,
Brande Dudley, in the driver's seat, Sheffield in the
passenger seat, and the unknown male, Anthony Grant, in the
rear seat. Detective Smith later testified that he had
detected a "faint" but "fresh" smell of
marijuana on the passenger side. Supp. App. 10. In addition,
Smith noticed "numerous air fresheners all [over] the
vehicle, " "on the top, the bottom, the back, the
front, all over the car." Id. After asking for
Dudley's license, the officers asked the three occupants
to get out of the vehicle.
then searched the inside of the vehicle. Upon unlocking and
opening the armrest console, Detective Iannacchione was
immediately met with "a strong chemical odor" and
found an eight-ounce lemon juice bottle, "which through
[their] investigation was consistent with that of storing and
packaging of PCP in large quantities." Supp. App. 11-12.
Detective Iannacchione opened the cap and noticed "a
strong chemical [odor] consistent with that of PCP."
Id. at 12. At that point, the officers placed all
three individuals under arrest.
then asked Detective Smith "[w]hat are we getting
arrested for?" Supp. App. 12. Smith responded that the
arrest was for "[w]hat was in the car, " to which
Sheffield responded "[e]verything is mine."
Id. After another detective began speaking privately
with Brande Dudley, Sheffield "became more irritated and
started yelling toward their direction for her not to say
nothing, that they didn't have a strong case, they got
nothing on us, don't say anything." Hearing Tr.
15-16 (Sept. 16, 2011).
the officers searched Grant incident to his arrest, they
found a plastic bag in his right sock containing
approximately 0.75 grams of marijuana.
government indicted Sheffield on one count of unlawful
possession with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of
PCP, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) & (b)(1)(B)(iv). Before
trial, Sheffield filed motions to suppress the physical
evidence of the PCP and his statements made during his
district court denied Sheffield's motions to suppress.
First, the court held that Dudley's two turns
made without signaling gave the officers probable cause to
believe she had committed a traffic violation. The court
rejected Sheffield's argument that the traffic violations
were mere pretext for a stop and search targeted at him
because "the officers' subjective motivations do not
render unconstitutional a search that is otherwise justified
by objective circumstances." J.A. 70.
the district court held that the search of the vehicle was
lawful, citing inter alia "the smell of
marijuana and the unusual number of air fresheners in the
car[.]" J.A. 74. The court further held that the
officers' search of the locked armrest console was proper
because there was a "'fair probability' that
[the defendant] might have hidden additional drugs not
necessary for his current consumption in areas out of plain
sight, including the trunk of a car" or an armrest
console. Id. at 75 (quoting United States v.
Turner, 119 F.3d 18, 20 (D.C. Cir. 1997)).
with respect to Sheffield's statements that everything in
the car "is mine" and that "they [don't]
have a strong case, they've got nothing on us, " the
district court ruled that Miranda warnings were not
required for their admission. The court explained that the
statements "were not made in response to a question
posed by the officers, nor did the officers take any action
to which defendant Sheffield's response was required or
expected." J.A. 77.
district court separately granted the government's motion
to admit a record documenting Sheffield's conviction in
2002 for possession with intent to distribute PCP, pursuant
to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b).
trial, Detectives Smith, Iannacchione, and a third officer
involved in the stop and arrest all testified to the
circumstances of the traffic stop, the discovery of the PCP,
and Sheffield's statements at the time of his arrest. In
addition, the jury heard testimony from the law enforcement
officials who transported, stored, and tested the PCP found
in the car, including "two arresting officers, who
observed and seized the lemon juice bottle at the scene of
the traffic stop; three other officers who established the
chain of custody of the lemon juice bottle, and detailed
their handling, storage, and documentation of the evidence;
and a DEA forensic chemist, who testified as to his testing
of the PCP evidence." J.A. 132. The jury learned that
photographs were taken of the lemon juice bottle and that the
quantity and weight of the liquid was measured. Id.
In addition, the jury heard that, because a DEA regulation
prohibits the agency from accepting more than 28.35 grams of
PCP for testing, Officer Joseph Abdalla "separated
approximately one ounce of the drug evidence into a vial and
gave it to [the DEA chemist]" for testing. Id.
at 133. The remaining PCP was never tested, though it was
introduced at trial. The jury subsequently found Sheffield
guilty of possessing with intent to distribute 100 or more
grams of PCP.
trial, Sheffield filed a "motion to test drugs not
submitted to DEA." J.A. 121. He argued that he wanted
the test "to ensure that the drugs introduced at trial
are the same drugs seized on June 8, 2011, and to ensure that
the measurements performed by the Metropolitan Police are
accurate." Id. at 123.
it as a motion for a new trial in light of newly discovered
evidence under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, the
district court denied the motion. The court explained that
testing the remaining liquid would not lead to new evidence
that could produce an acquittal because (i) five officers
"testified as to the smell, seizure, documentation,
field testing, and storage of the drug evidence, " and
Sheffield never argued that such testing was erroneous or
that the witnesses were not credible, J.A. 136-137; (ii)
measurement of the PCP six months after Sheffield's
arrest would "provide minimal probative value"
because PCP evaporates over time, id. at 137; and
(iii) testing the remaining PCP would not address whether the
drugs presented at Sheffield's trial were the same drugs
seized at his arrest, id. at 138.
was sentenced to 230 months of imprisonment and 96 months of
supervised release. In calculating that sentence, the
district court applied a career-offender enhancement under
the United States Sentencing Guidelines.
first challenges the admission of the PCP discovered during
the search of the car. We decide de novo whether the
police had probable cause both to stop the car and to search
it. See, e.g., United States v. Burroughs,
810 F.3d 833, 839 (D.C. Cir. 2016). However, we review the
district court's fact findings for clear error, giving
"due weight to inferences drawn from those facts and to
the court's determinations of witness credibility."
United States v. Brown, 334 F.3d 1161, 1164 (D.C.
Cir. 2003) (quotation marks omitted).
the district court's factual findings, we hold that the
officers had probable cause to stop the car in which
Sheffield was riding. "As a general matter, the decision
to stop an automobile is reasonable where the police have
probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has
occurred." Whren v. United States, 517 U.S.
806, 810 (1996). Even minor violations of traffic law may
justify a stop. See, e.g., id. at 808
(turning without signaling and speeding); United States
v. Williams, 773 F.3d 98, 103 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (failure
to wear a seatbelt).
the officers had probable cause to believe that the driver of
the vehicle had violated a mandatory traffic regulation
because the driver twice failed to signal a turn, in
contravention of D.C. Municipal Regulations, Title 18 §
2204.3. Section 2204.3 provides that "[n]o person shall
turn any vehicle * * * from a direct course or move right or
left upon a roadway without giving an appropriate signal * *
* if any other traffic may be affected by the movement."
In this case, the district court found that Dudley, the
driver of the car in which Sheffield was riding, first
"turn[ed] sharply into an alley without using a turn
signal, " and then after leaving the alley "ma[de]
another right turn without a turn signal" when another
car was behind her. J.A. 63, 69. Under Whren, those
violations of D.C. traffic law provided probable cause to
stop the vehicle, see 517 U.S. at 808-809, 819.
does not deny that those traffic infractions occurred, but
argues that their use by the police was mere pretext for the
officers' true motivation, which was to stop him. That no
traffic citation was ever issued, Sheffield argues, is
"clearly indicative of the intent to target Dante
Sheffield via this ever so slight traffic violation."
Pet. Br. 29.
precedent forecloses that argument. The test for probable
cause is an objective one, focusing on whether the stop was
reasonable. See Whren, 517 U.S. at 811-813.
Accordingly, "the constitutional reasonableness of
traffic stops [does not] depend on the actual motivations
of the individual officers involved, " even when those
motivations are "admitted." Id. at
means that, contrary to Sheffield's argument,
"ulterior motives [cannot] invalidate police conduct
that is justifiable on the basis of probable cause to believe
that a violation of law has occurred." Whren,
517 U.S. at 811; see also United States v.
Washington, 559 F.3d 573, 575 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (traffic
stop for running a stop sign was reasonable notwithstanding
evidence of "aggressive traffic patrols" that
"use[d] routine traffic stops to try to detect and
prevent drug and gun crimes"). Indeed, in United
States v. Bookhardt, 277 F.3d 558 (D.C. Cir. 2002), we
upheld a stop even though the officers did not have probable
cause to stop the defendant for the reason they
gave-that the defendant was driving with an expired
license, id. at 564-because the officers as an
objective matter did have probable cause to stop the
defendant for a reason they did not give-reckless
driving, id. at 565- 566.
the two undisputed signaling violations committed in front of
the officers' car provided an objectively reasonable
basis for the officers to believe that the driver had
violated the traffic laws, and that in and of itself provided
probable cause to stop Dudley's car.
likewise hold that, given the district court's factual
findings, probable cause existed to ...