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Additional criminal activity authorizes extending traffic stop to wait for canine unit

Facts

Following a stipulated bench trial, Benancio Castaneda was convicted of conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine (actual), and of possession with the intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine (actual). The district court sentenced Castaneda to a total of 180 months in prison and a total of five years of supervised release.

Castaneda appeals the district court’s denial of the motion to suppress the evidence found in the vehicle he was driving, arguing that the police officer did not have reasonable suspicion to extend the traffic stop to wait for a canine unit.

Analysis

Where the police officer develops reasonable suspicion of additional criminal activity during his investigation of the circumstances that originally caused the traffic stop, he may further detain the vehicle’s occupants for a reasonable time while appropriately attempting to dispel this reasonable suspicion. See Smith. In this case, Deputy Dwight Montgomery initiated the traffic stop because the vehicle’s license plate could not be read, as it was a temporary paper tag that was not secured properly and was flapping. Deputy Montgomery knew that narcotics agents had been surveilling Castaneda after seeing him leave a house they had been monitoring.

Moreover, during the traffic stop, Castaneda gave inconsistent and untruthful stories about where he had been coming from. In addition, Castaneda’s driver’s license was invalid, and his driver’s license had been suspended due to his failure to complete a drug-education program. Castaneda also was “pretty visibly nervous, jittery,” avoided eye contact, and “couldn’t sit still.”

Agent Marvin Patterson testified that, just prior to the traffic stop, he and another narcotics agent were conducting surveillance on a house where neighbors had complained about short-stay traffic consistent with drug trafficking. Agent Patterson testified that he observed Castaneda enter that house carrying a lunchbox and leave with that lunchbox after less than 10 minutes, and that small containers like the lunchbox can be used to carry narcotics. Agent Patterson’s knowledge can be imputed to Deputy Montgomery because they were in communication with each other, and Agent Patterson participated in the traffic stop in coordination with Deputy Montgomery. The district court did not err in concluding that the officers had developed reasonable suspicion of additional criminal activity that justified extending the stop to wait for the canine unit. See Reyes.

Castaneda also challenges the canine sniff itself, asserting that the canine handler prompted the dog to stick her nose through the vehicle’s window, resulting in an unlawful search. We need not decide whether the canine handler did prompt the dog in that manner, however, because the canine handler testified that, before the dog put her nose in the window, the dog had already alerted by the front driver’s-side wheel when she climbed under the vehicle. The district court found that the canine handler’s testimony was credible, and this credibility determination is entitled to deference.

Accordingly, based on that alert by the wheel, the officers had already obtained probable cause to search the vehicle. The district court therefore did not err in denying Castaneda’s motion to suppress.

 

https://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/unpub/22/22-10844.0.pdf