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Waiting 10 minutes for K-9 is reasonable after developing reasonable suspicion to extend the stop

Facts

On June 14, 2019, Leopoldo Gonzalez was driving through Texas on U.S. 287 when State Trooper Daniel Manney observed him traveling 91 miles per hour in a 75-miles-per-hour zone and stopped him for speeding. The trooper’s body and in-car cameras captured the entire encounter. The trooper approached the passenger side of Gonzalez’s vehicle, informed him that he had been stopped for speeding, asked about his travel plans, and requested his driver’s license and proof of insurance. Gonzalez provided his license and registration, explaining that he was on his way to a family reunion in Alabama and that his car was insured, but he did not have proof of insurance with him.

Two minutes and twenty seconds into the stop, the trooper asked Gonzalez to accompany him in his patrol car to conduct an insurance check. Once seated in the patrol car, Gonzalez commented that it was his first time in the front of a police car. The trooper noted that Gonzalez appeared unnaturally nervous, as his hands and arms were shaking. Three minutes after the initial stop, the trooper began running various computer checks as he continued to ask Gonzalez about his travel plans. Gonzalez told the trooper that he was not sure exactly where in Alabama the reunion would be held, but once there, he would “meet up” with his family and they would “go to a lake or something . . ..” He elaborated that it was his mother’s family that would be attending the reunion, that he was “born and raised” in Los Angeles, and that other than a visit to Las Vegas, it was the first time he had left California.

Approximately seven minutes into the stop, the trooper confirmed that Gonzalez had car insurance, but he continued running computer checks and questioning him. Gonzalez explained that he did not know why the reunion was being hosted in Alabama, but he guessed it was because his family members were “big travelers.” Eight minutes and twenty-eight seconds into the stop, the trooper asked Gonzalez if he had ever been arrested. Gonzalez admitted he had been arrested twice before for crimes involving theft. When asked, he denied having large amounts of cash or anything illegal in his car. Nine minutes and eighteen seconds into the stop, the trooper resumed his questioning about the family reunion.

As confirmed by the body camera footage, the trooper completed the computer searches and asked for consent to search the car nine minutes and forty-seven seconds into the stop. For about ninety seconds, Gonzalez avoided directly answering the question; he first stated he did not “have anything in there,” asked if a search was necessary, and finally said he did not mind a search “if we can get on our way.” The trooper called for a canine unit eleven minutes and three seconds into the stop, and the canine unit arrived approximately eight minutes later, which was nineteen minutes and thirty seconds into the stop. The dog alerted to the trunk of the car, where the trooper found 420 grams of heroin. Gonzalez was arrested and later charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C).

Gonzalez moved to suppress the evidence but the district court denied the motion without conducting a hearing. Gonzalez pleaded guilty and entered into a conditional plea agreement that reserved his right to appeal the district court’s suppression ruling. The 5th affirmed.

Analysis

A. Time from traffic stop to requesting consent

The reasonableness of a traffic stop is analyzed under the framework articulated in SCOTUS Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), which requires examination of (1) whether the officer’s action was justified at its inception, and (2) whether the officer’s subsequent actions were reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the stop. Here, only the second prong of the Terry analysis is at issue.

As part of a traffic stop investigation, an officer may examine driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations and run computer checks . . . . He may also ask about the purpose and itinerary of the occupant’s trip . . . because we consider these questions to be reasonably related in scope to his investigation of the circumstances that caused the stop. . . . An officer may ask questions on subjects unrelated to the circumstances that caused the stop, so long as these unrelated questions do not extend the duration of the stop. See Pack.

Under the second Terry prong, however, a traffic stop may not last longer than necessary to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop. See SCOTUS Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348 (2015). Authority for the seizure thus ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are—or reasonably should have been—completed. If an officer develops reasonable suspicion of other crimes while investigating the circumstances that caused the stop, however, he may detain the car’s occupants for a reasonable time until that reasonable suspicion is dispelled or confirmed.

Here, the district court found that during the first nine minutes and forty-seven seconds of the traffic stop, the trooper’s conduct was reasonably related to the underlying traffic violation. The body camera footage shows that during the first seven minutes of the encounter, the trooper was performing the necessary computer checks to confirm the ownership and insurance status of the vehicle. After he verified Gonzalez’s insurance, the trooper continued using the patrol car’s computer to review Gonzalez’s criminal record, and he completed his review nine minutes and forty-seven seconds into the stop. The trooper’s questioning during this time was constitutional because it did not extend the duration of the stop.

B. Time from requesting consent onward

Because the trooper completed all the tasks reasonably related to the speeding violation during the first nine minutes and forty-seven seconds of the traffic stop, the stop was unconstitutionally prolonged unless additional reasonable suspicion within that time. See Cavitt.

Here, the district court found that the trooper had developed reasonable suspicion to prolong the stop based on the following: (1) the fact that Gonzalez was traveling along a known drug trafficking corridor, (2) Gonzalez’s nervous demeanor, (3) the implausibility of his story regarding the family reunion in Alabama, and (4) the trooper’s training, education, and experience in narcotics interdiction, especially in the area at issue.

Based on the totality of the circumstances—Gonzalez’s nervous behavior, implausible story, and the trooper’s deductions therefrom—it was not unreasonable for the trooper to suspect that Gonzalez was involved in criminal activity. See Pack (holding that a defendant’s extreme nervousness, conflicting stories, and presence on a known drug corridor, coupled with the arresting officer’s experience, combine to establish reasonable suspicion). He has not shown that the district court erred.

C. Time for K-9 to arrive

This court has held that a ten-minute delay in deploying a canine unit after developing reasonable suspicion did not unreasonably extend a traffic stop. See Smith.

As noted, after completing his computer checks nine minutes and forty-seven seconds into the stop, the trooper asked Gonzalez for permission to search his vehicle for contraband. Gonzalez initially avoided directly answering the question, and eleven minutes and three seconds into the stop, the trooper called for a canine unit, which arrived nineteen minutes and thirty seconds into the stop. Because the canine unit arrived approximately eight and a half minutes after the trooper had developed reasonable suspicion, the district court did not err in concluding that the delay in this case did not render the duration of the stop unreasonable.

https://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/unpub/23/23-10963.0.pdf