United States District Court, D. Maryland
Xinis United States District Judge
before the Court is Defendant Justin Larson's motion to
suppress the fruits of a warrantless search conducted on a
package shipped from China and destined for Gaithersburg,
Maryland. ECF No. 12. The Government contends that the
warrantless search was justified as under the extended border
search doctrine. For the following reasons, the Court agrees
and will deny Defendant's motion.
March 28, 2016, Larson was charged with one count of
distribution of a controlled substance analogue with death
resulting, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and
(b)(1)(C) and one count of conspiracy to distribute a
controlled substance analogue in violation of 21 U.S.C.
§ 846. On August 3, 2016, the Government filed a
superseding indictment, adding four counts of possession of a
controlled substance analogue with intent to distribute, one
count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to
distribute, and one count of attempted possession of a
controlled substance analogue with intent to distribute. ECF
then filed a motion and supplemental motion to suppress
evidence and statements. ECF Nos. 6, 12. In his motion,
Larson challenged, inter alia, the constitutionality
of a warrantless search and seizure of a package that had
been transported from China and destined for a Gaithersburg,
Maryland address. On December 12, 2016, the Court held a
suppression hearing where the Government contended that the
warrantless seizure and search of the package was justified
as an extended border search. After hearing from two
witnesses called by the Government-Special Agent Jason
Shatarsky from the United States Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) and Corey Evans, the Operations Manager of
TNT, a private commercial carrier-and oral argument, the
Court requested supplemental briefing from the parties. ECF
No. 35. On December 14, 2016, the Court received supplemental
letter pleadings from the Government and Defendant. ECF Nos.
suppression hearing, the following undisputed facts were
established. On February 10, 2015, the parcel in question
began its journey from China to the United States. Its
ultimate destination was to be 19413 Brassie Place,
Gaithersburg, Maryland. TNT, an international parcel delivery
service akin to FedEx Express, was responsible for shipping
the package. TNT took custody of the package in China and
airmailed it to the United States. The package entered the
United States at John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) in New York.
As is routine with all TNT packages delivered from China to
the United States, TNT maintains constant custody and control
over the packages from the moment TNT takes possession until
the package is delivered to its final destination.
Specifically, when the packages arrive at JFK, TNT loads them
into a secure warehouse where they are then loaded into a
secure TNT truck and transported to a TNT distribution hub in
geographic proximity to its final consumer destination.
During transport, the packages are locked securely in a truck
and not accessible to anyone including the driver. Once the
packages reach the TNT hub in Bowie, Maryland, they are then
sorted and delivered to their final destinations.
from time to time works cooperatively with federal law
enforcement to hold and search packages deemed suspicious.
Because such cooperation often delays the delivery of the
packages, TNT will also, at law enforcement's request,
manipulate the package tracking information publicly
available to its customer base to hide the real reason for
the delay. TNT further will provide space in its facility for
law enforcement to search packages.
precisely what happened here. Special Agent Shatarsky
testified that while the package in question was in transit,
DHS learned of four other similarly sized and weighted
packages which were shipped from China via TNT through JFK,
all of which contained illegal narcotics. Specifically, on
February 9 and 10, 2015, Agent Shatarsky was involved in the
seizure and search of two such TNT packages which contained
methamphetamine. Agent Shatarsky testified to seizing and
searching the first two packages on February 9. Agent
Shatarsky then participated in a controlled delivery
involving the second two packages and received consent to
search those two additional packages on February 10.
the searches uncovered illegal narcotics packaged the same
way: a mylar plastic bag held the drugs; the bag was then
secreted in a small water cooler; the box holding the water
cooler appeared to be the commercial packaging for the water
cooler. Of the four prior deliveries, two originated from a
Shanghai address that was nearly identical for all practical
purposes to originating address for the package in question.
See Gov't Ex. 1-5.
result, when the package in this case came to Agent
Shatarsky's attention, he contacted TNT operations
manager Corey Evans to intercept it. Agent Shatarsky
specifically requested that Mr. Evans hold the package and
make it appear in the TNT website that delivery was delayed
for a period of time sufficient to allow the Agents to search
the package. When the package arrived at the Bowie, Maryland
location, it was placed in a secure cage where it remained
until February 17, 2015. At that time, Agents Shatarsky and
another fellow agent arrived at the TNT Bowie facility. Evans
provided the agents a designated area to search the package.
observed that the parcel was consistent in size, shape and
weight to the prior four shipments. Based on those
similarities and in combination with the similarity of sender
address to the prior two packages, Agent Shatarsky opened the
package. Inside he found a water cooler almost identical in
appearance to the ones used in the prior four shipments. This
cooler was packaged similarly to the prior four, and
contained within the water cooler was a mylar bag of similar
size and color. The bag contained what appeared to be
controlled substances. Agent Shatarsky then contacted fellow
agents to retrieve the package.
substance in the package ultimately tested positive for
acetyl fentanyl. A controlled delivery was made to its final
destination, 19413 Brassie Place, Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Amber Sullivan, Larson's girlfriend, signed a fake name
and accepted the package. Agents then took Sullivan and
another individual into custody. After being read her
Miranda rights, Sullivan told the agents that Larson
asked her to pick up the package. During Sullivan's
detention with the agents, Larson called Sullivan's cell
phone to confirm the package had been delivered.