Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:In June 2004, the district court authorized a wire tap for FBI agents to monitor phone calls by suspected drug dealers. Based on intercepted phone calls, authorities believed that several kilograms of cocaine would be transported from Dallas to Memphis on June 30, 2004. That day, authorities observed Janali Sefidkar driving a black Dodge Durango to Dallas and then leaving Dallas en route toward Memphis. In July 2004, authorities intercepted calls that led them to believe Sefidkar would be transporting cocaine to Memphis again. Authorities observed Sefidkar driving the same Durango to Dallas and back to his residence in Plano. From there, Sefidkar drove a rental car while another individual drove the Durango, both vehicles traveling together along the same route toward Memphis. According to FBI Special Agent Mark Pfleghaar, who testified at the suppression hearing, rental vehicles are often used in drug trafficking operations to provide a decoy for the vehicle transporting drugs and to alert others if the transport vehicle is stopped by authorities. On Aug. 3, 2004, authorities intercepted a call by a Memphis buyer to a Dallas supplier, followed by a call to Sefidkar to transport another load. Authorities observed Sefidkar driving the Durango to an alleged drug “stash house” in Dallas. They later observed the Durango and a red Mitsubishi leaving Sefidkar’s Plano residence with Sefidkar driving the Mitsubishi and Mehdi Khanalizadeh driving the Durango. On Aug. 6, 2004, the vehicles followed the same route as before, toward Memphis. This trip resulted in the stop and search of the Durango and the arrest and ultimate conviction of Khanalizadeh. The officer who made the traffic stop of Khanalizadeh on Aug. 6, 2004, was Sergeant Harry Washington, an officer with the Ark-La-Tex narcotics task force and an 18-year veteran police officer. Washington had received a call from an FBI agent telling him that a black Durango would probably be transporting drugs from Dallas and that Washington would be receiving a call from Texas Department of Public Safety agent Bill Ferrell. Ferrell contacted Washington on Aug. 6, 2004, and told him authorities believed the Durango contained 14 to 15 pounds of cocaine. Ferrell told Washington that the Durango was missing its front license plate, a violation of Texas traffic laws, which would give him probable cause to stop the Durango. Additionally, Ferrell told Washington that the Durango would be traveling with a red decoy vehicle. Washington stopped Khanalizadeh in the Durango at 8:29 p.m. on Aug. 6, 2004. He obtained Khanalizadeh’s driver’s license and proof of insurance and advised him that he was being stopped because his Durango was missing its front license plate. Washington noted that although the insurance card was under Khanalizadeh’s name, it was for a Mercedes, not the Durango. Khanalizadeh then gave conflicting stories about when he acquired the Durango. When asked about his travel plans, Khanalizadeh said he was going to pick up his wife, later stating she was not his wife but his girlfriend or fianc�e. He did not know her birthday. After checking Khanalizadeh’s driver’s license, insurance card and registration, Washington informed Khanalizadeh that it is part of his job to “make sure nobody’s trafficking in any illegal narcotics” and asked Khanalizadeh several times if he had drugs or weapons and if officers could “look.” Khanalizadeh responded in the affirmative. Washington specifically stated, “We want to search your vehicle for illegal narcotics and weapons,” to which Khanalizadeh replied, “Sure, that’s your job.” While searching the vehicle, Washington noticed fresh glue on the carpet and tool marks on the back seat’s bolts. Washington told Khanalizadeh that he believed drugs were in the vehicle and that he would be taking the Durango to a mechanic’s shop nearby. Khanalizadeh objected but agreed when given the option of going to the shop or waiting for a drug-sniffing dog. At the shop, which was about eight miles away, officers discovered a hidden compartment behind the back seat, and in it, 15 pounds of cocaine. Khanalizadeh was later indicted along with 56 codefendants for conspiracy to distribute and possess illegal drugs. Before the district court, Khanalizadeh moved to suppress evidence obtained in the traffic stop and search of the Durango. The district court denied the motion. Khanalizadeh entered a guilty plea, conditioned on the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress, which he then appealed. HOLDING:Affirmed. A police officer, the court stated, may stop a vehicle if he has probable cause to believe a traffic violation has occurred. The legal justification for the traffic stop, however, must be objectively grounded. In this case, the court stated that Washington had probable cause to initiate the traffic stop. Before pulling over Khanalizadeh, Washington verified that the Durango’s front license plate was missing. Therefore, Washington had an objectively grounded legal justification for initiating the traffic stop, i.e. a violation of Texas traffic laws requiring the display of a front license plate. Khanalizadeh, the court stated, argued that even if the initial stop was lawful, Washington did not have reasonable suspicion to continue detaining Khanalizadeh after clearing his driver’s license and registration. Once the purpose of a valid traffic stop has been completed and an officer’s initial suspicions have been verified or dispelled, the detention must end unless there is additional reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts. The court found that the district court did not err in determining that Washington had reasonable suspicion to continue his questioning of Khanalizadeh, given the discrepancies in Khanalizadeh’s story and the FBI drug alert. Similarly, the court found that the district court did not err in concluding that Washington’s subsequent search of the vehicle was reasonably related to dispelling his justifiable suspicion. Washington became particularly suspicious when observing the fresh tool marks on the back seat’s bolts and fresh glue on carpet of a different color. In Washington’s experience, this evidence suggested a hidden compartment. Washington’s actions were reasonable, the court stated. Finally, the court found that the district court did not err by failing to address whether Khanalizadeh’s consent was voluntary, because Washington asked Khanalizadeh four times for consent to search and each time Khanalizadeh responded in the affirmative. Although an Iranian national, Khanalizadeh spoke and understood English fairly well, the court noted. OPINION:Per curiam; Jolly, Clement and Owen, JJ.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 1 article* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.