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United States v. Dawson.

No. 22-8064. 1/22/2024. D.Wyo. Judge Baldock. Fourth Amendment—Plain View—Summary Judgment—Collateral Order Doctrine.

January 22, 2024

Officer Kalb pulled over Dawson for speeding in a rental car. Dawson said he was in a hurry because his car was low on fuel. Officer Kalb invited Dawson to sit in his patrol car while he cited Dawson for speeding. Officer Kalb asked him to produce his rental car agreement. Dawson produced a registration showing that Avis Car Rental (Avis) owned the car, but he did not have documentation showing he rented the car from Avis, so he called his girlfriend and asked her to send the rental agreement to his phone. Dawson showed Officer Kalb an email confirming that he reserved a rental car with Avis, but Officer Kalb told him that he needed the actual rental agreement to confirm that Dawson had lawful possession of the car at the time of the stop. While Dawson called his girlfriend back to help locate his rental agreement, Officer Kalb returned to the rental car and asked Dawson’s passenger Dickerson to check the fuel gauge. When Dickerson leaned over to check the fuel gauge, Officer Kalb observed what he believed to be a small bud of marijuana on the seat beneath Dickerson. Dickerson admitted the substance was marijuana. Officer Kalb then searched the rental car and seized two pounds of methamphetamine. Dawson was indicted on one count of possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine under 21 USC § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A). Dawson moved to suppress the fruits of the car search, and the district court denied the motion. Dawson then pleaded guilty subject to the lesser penalties provided under § 841(b)(1)(B). The court sentenced him at the low end of the US Sentencing Guidelines (USSG) range to 70 months’ imprisonment followed by four years of supervised release.

On appeal, Dawson argued that the district court erred in denying his suppression motion because Officer Kalb had no authority to detain him after issuing his speeding citation and thus violated his Fourth Amendment rights. During a traffic stop, an officer is tasked with addressing the traffic violation that warranted the stop and making inquiries incident to the traffic stop, such as checking for a driver’s license, vehicle registration. and proof of insurance. A rental agreement is like a privately owned vehicle’s registration and is an ordinary inquiry incident to the traffic stop. Here, Officer Kalb did not divert from the traffic-based mission of the stop by detaining Dawson to determine whether he was authorized to drive the rental car by rental agreement. And because Officer Kalb lacked sufficient evidence that Dawson was authorized to drive the rental car, his traffic-based duties were ongoing, and he did not unlawfully prolong the stop. Accordingly, the district court did not err in denying Dawson’s motion to suppress.

Dawson also argued that the district court erred by holding that it could not depart downward to 60 months to adjust for Dawson’s pretrial time served for a relevant offense in North Dakota. Here, the district court found that Dawson’s North Dakota offense involved relevant conduct to the instant offense, so the drug quantities from Dawson’s North Dakota offense were added to the quantities recovered from his Wyoming offense to calculate his offense level. Dawson’s USSG imprisonment range was 70 to 87 months, and he requested a downward departure that would have placed his sentence below the mandatory minimum. The district court made a discretionary decision that it could not depart downward because doing so would reduce Dawson’s sentence below the mandatory minimum. The Tenth Circuit lacks jurisdiction to review the district court’s discretionary denial of a motion for downward departure.

The conviction was affirmed and Dawson’s appeal of his sentence was dismissed.


Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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