D.Nev.: Consent on Amtrak platform wasn’t voluntary

Defendant was button-holed during a smoke break off the train when his Amtrak train stopped in Reno. His consent for a search of this compartment and stuff wasn’t consensual and induced by the threat of a dog sniff; it was coerced. The court finds the narc’s testimony not believable. United States v. Estes, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51510 (D.Nev. April 18, 2016):

The court is troubled by the lack of credibility which permeates the Kurup testimony in this case. The court comments on some of the factors of concern:

Kurup described a very consensual and casual conversation with Estes on the train platform. The fact is that the encounter with Estes had been carefully planned by the drug interdiction team composed of Kurup, Detective Moore, and canine Officer Hill. The only purpose of their being together at the Reno train station was to confront Estes and to act within an approximate ten to fifteen minute period of the train’s temporary stop. When Kurup approached Estes on the train platform, there was an obvious immediacy in the encounter. The denial by Kurup of Estes being involved in a cell phone conversation on the train platform, of directing Estes to get off the phone and not hearing repeated return calls by Erika Dean in the several minutes following the conversation, raises serious questions concerning Kurup’s description of a seizure-free atmosphere surrounding Estes as well as Kurup’s credibility in general.

Further concern arises from the warning given to Estes that if he refused to consent to a search, that a canine sniff would be conducted and if the dog alerted to the room or Estes’ belongings, Estes’ belongings would be seized and a search warrant obtained, obviously separating Estes from his luggage. Further concern arises after the dog did not alert to the room, which was a fact only appreciated by Kurup and the police officers. Notwithstanding the clear lack of probable cause for a search and seizure, Estes was then informed that the dog had shown serious interest in the room. Estes would likely have no idea of the difference between an alert and only interest in the room. The “serious interest” comment was obviously imparted with the hope that it would bring about a consent by Estes to a search of his room and luggage. At no time was Estes told of his right to refuse consent.

Kurup’s credibility is further strained by the consent then attributed to Estes. Although Kurup and the two police officers were at the train stop together for the ten to fifteen minute period for the specific purpose of investigating Estes and his possible involvement with drugs, Estes’ voluntary consent to search testified by Kurup was not witnessed at any time by either of the two police officers. No attempt was made by Kurup to have Detective Moore or Officer Hill witness or confirm the alleged consent by Estes, no attempt was made to create an audio recording of Estes’ consent, and no attempt was made to obtain a written consent from Estes although a consent form is a standard form used in Reno police investigations.

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