4/24/2013Court Rules Failure Of Drug Dog To Indicate Ends Traffic Stop
Federal judge rules a traffic stop must end if the drug dog fails to indicate the presence of drugs.
If a drug dog fails to indicate during a traffic stop, the stop must come to an end, a federal court ruled last week. US District Judge Dale A. Kimball threw out the evidence against Apolonio Rodriguez and Bernardo Herrada after they successfully argued Logan City, Utah police officers impermissibly extended a traffic stop when they had no solid evidence that they had committed a crime.
On September 21, 2012, Officer Shand Nazer and Officer-in-Training Shawn Oliverson pulled over the Chevy Astron van of Rodriguez and Herrada. A drug task force member had attached a GPS tracking device that recorded the van driving from Utah to a city in California known for being a source of drugs. The van then returned to Utah. During a previous traffic stop, a drug dog had indicated drugs were present in the van, but a search turned up nothing illegal. A drug task force member asked Officer Nazer to stop the van as it came into the city.
Officer Nazer saw the van move into a left-hand turn lane at an intersection without signaling for two full seconds, as required under state law, which served as the pretext for the stop. Herrada, the driver, produced a valid driver's license. Within a matter of minutes, a drug dog, Endy, arrived on the scene and began sniffing the van. According to the dog's handler, it did not indicate the presence of drugs. Officer Nazer and the drug task force officer then huddled to figure out how they might be able to get Herrada to consent to a search of the van after he was handed a warning for failure to signal. He was told he was free to go, but the officers surrounded his vehicle and told Herrada they wanted to verify whether he was telling them the truth.
Herrada, who does not speak English well, believed he had no choice but to consent. The search revealed methamphetamine hidden within a speaker. Though the stop took a total of 14 minutes -- barely more than the average traffic encounter -- the extra time came when the officers lacked a legitimate reason for detention.
"An officer may detain a driver beyond the scope of the initial traffic stop if the officer observes facts and circumstances that provide him objective reasonable suspicion that the driver is engaged in illegal activity, or the detention becomes a consensual encounter," Judge Dale A. Kimball ruled. "After the dog failed to indicate, the facts and circumstances do not support reasonable suspicion of illegal activity. The court finds that it was unreasonable for the officers to prolong the detention for several minutes while discussing how they could proceed in order to search the van."
The court found the consent for the search was coerced and ordered the evidence against Herrada suppressed.
A copy of the decision is available in a 90k PDF file at the source link below.