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Shah v. United States

January 25, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge


A. Introduction

Before this Court is plaintiff Babar J. Shah's motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Doc. 1). Having carefully considered the evidence and arguments presented by Shah and the Government, the Court DENIES Shah's § 2255 petition (Doc. 1) for the reasons that follow.

B. Factual & Procedural Background

On April 18, 2002, Shah was traveling in a rental vehicle driven by his co-defendant, Amad Zambrana (see underlying criminal case, Case No. 03-CR-30196, United States v. Shah, et al.). The two men apparently were pulled over for crossing the white divider-line in the middle of the highway upon which they were traveling. Subsequent to pulling their vehicle over, Collinsville Police Officer Michael Reichert requested Zambrana's license and registration. Zambrana responded by presenting his license along with a rental agreement for the vehicle. Officer Reichert then asked Shah for identification. In response, Shah presented a military identification card.

Upon reviewing the rental agreement for the vehicle, Officer Reichert noted that the person designated as the renter of the vehicle was not present. In addition, Reichert noticed trash, maps, and a small duffle bag apparently containing a change of clothes within the vehicle. Reichert also determined that the men appeared to have been traveling for an extended period of time. Officer Reichert asked Zambrana to exit the vehicle, explained the reason for the stop, and asked about his trip. Zambrana responded that he and Shah were driving from Maryland to California to visit friends who were going off to war.

Officer Reichert asked Zambrana how long it had taken them to get to California. Zambrana told the officer that they drove straight through for 36 hours. After talking to Zambrana, Officer Reichert then questioned Shah about the purpose of their trip. Shah told the officer that they went to California in order to sight-see and visit a friend. In Reichert's estimation, this response was inconsistent with Zambrana's response regarding the purpose of the trip. In addition, Reichert noticed that Shah seemed extremely nervous (apparently Shah was shaking, avoiding eye contact, and crossing and uncrossing his arms in a nervous manner) while answering his questions.

Officer Reichert considered the date on the rental agreement and the fact that the two men were already headed back home, and thought that this seemed like an extremely fast trip, with little time to actually visit with their friends. From this, and other factors, Reichert began to suspect that the two men were transporting contraband.

After further questioning Zambrana, Reichert informed the two men that they were free to leave. Nonetheless, as the two men started to walk away, Reichert decided to continue questioning Zambrana, inquiring as to why he and Shah seemed so nervous, and again inquiring whether the two men were transporting anything illegal. After asking Zambrana this series of questions and gauging his responses, Reichert asked for permission to search the vehicle. Although Zambrana refused, Officer Reichert informed Zambrana that he was detaining the rental car until a canine could be walked around the car. While waiting for the canine unit to arrive, Zambrana gave Officer Reichert permission to search the vehicle.

As Officer Reichert began to search the car, the canine unit arrived. The dog was placed in the vehicle and immediately alerted on the center console area of the vehicle. In this area, Officer Reichert found a package containing approximately 95 grams of heroin and 244 grams of cocaine.

Shah and Zambrana were arrested, read their Miranda rights, and transported to the Collinsville Police Department. At the police department, Shah was asked if he wanted to cooperate, and he responded that he wanted to talk to a lawyer. Following booking and fingerprinting, as Shah was being transported to a jail cell, he asked if he could speak to a detective. Shah then informed Detective David Roth that he wanted to cooperate and give a written statement regarding the narcotics. Shah was then read his Miranda rights, indicated that he understood these rights, and signed a Miranda waiver (see Doc. 15, Ex. 4). Shah subsequently provided a written statement, in which he admitted that he was "not on the leasing agreement at all, [and] was not even to be a driver of the car." Id. In addition, Shah admitted that he and Zambrana drove to California "to pick up some drugs," obtained "cocaine and heroin ... in a plastic bag," concealed the drugs inside the center console of their vehicle, and were traveling back home when they were arrested. Id.

Initially, both Shah and Zambrana plead not guilty to charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and heroin. On December 12, 2003, however, Shah signed a Plea Agreement, changing his plea to guilty (see Docs. 16, 17, Case No. 03-CR-30196). Shah was sentenced to a term of 30 months on March 22, 2004. Shah filed the instant motion on July 23, 2004; it is therefore timely. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255.

In the meantime, Shah's co-defendant, Zambrana, chose not to plea guilty and instead moved to suppress evidence and statements. On April 19, 2004, the Court granted Zambrana's motion. That decision was ultimately appealed, and the Seventh Circuit remanded the case to this Court, directing the Court to further explain its basis for granting the motion to suppress (see Doc. 111, Case No. 03-CR-30196). The Court did so, and issued its final decision on November 30, 2005, granting Zambrana's motion to suppress narcotics found in his rental car, as well as statements made by Zambrana and co-defendant Shah (see Doc. 112, Case No. 03-CR-30196).

As a result of that ruling, this Court ultimately dismissed Zambrana from the indictment in the ...

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