United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division
OPINION AND ORDER
C. Coggins, Jr. United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to
Suppress. ECF No. 43. The Government filed a Response. ECF
No. 50. Accordingly, the Motion is ripe for consideration.
January 23, 2018, Defendant was indicted for numerous drug
and firearm charges resulting from a traffic stop in Myrtle
Beach, South Carolina. Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress
the drugs and firearms seized during the traffic stop, and
the Court held a suppression hearing on May 3, 2018.
suppression hearing, the Government offered the testimony of
Officer Ed Gordon, a patrol officer with the Horry County
Police Department with more than twenty-years of experience
and extensive experience in drug investigations; Officer
Gordon testified as follows. On the evening of
Defendant's arrest, November 29, 2016, Officer Gordon was
conducting surveillance of the Sea Mist Resort. On prior
occasions, officers had observed street level drug deals at
the Sea Mist Resort, which led to Officer Gordon's
surveillance on the evening of Defendant's arrest.
Officer Gordon positioned himself across the street from the
Sea Mist Resort and observed what appeared to be hand-to-hand
drug transactions. Specifically, Officer Gordon observed
runners standing outside of a hotel room. These runners
appeared to deliver drugs to pedestrians and individuals in
vehicles who approached the Sea Mist Resort. When Officer
Gordon observed an alleged hand-to-hand drug transaction with
an individual in a vehicle, he called out the identity of the
vehicle to narcotics officers nearby in unmarked vehicles.
Officers in the unmarked vehicles would follow the subjects
until they committed a traffic violation, and then a marked
unit would pull the subjects over.
witnessing a number of these apparent hand-to-hand drug
transactions, Officer Gordon observed Defendant appearing to
emerge from the area of the room where the runners were
standing and watched Defendant interact with the runners.
Additionally, Officer Gordon stated Defendant spoke with
another man, but they walked out of Officer Gordon's line
of sight. The other man got into a red Cadillac while
Defendant got into a white Audi; then, both men left the Sea
Mist Resort. Officer Gordon called out the identity of both
vehicles and they were stopped by law
enforcement. Officer Gordon testified that his
familiarity with drug dealing in the Horry County area,
combined with Defendant's actions, gave rise to a
reasonable suspicion that Defendant was engaged in criminal
cross-examination, Officer Gordon admitted that he prepared
no report on the evening of the arrest. Officer Gordon also
admitted that simply being in the proximity of drug
transactions does not mean a person is involved in drug
dealing. Defendant introduced evidence that Defendant was a
registered guest at the Sea Mist Resort on the evening of his
arrest. Accordingly, Defendant had a valid reason for being
at the Sea Mist Resort; however, this information was not
known by law enforcement on the evening of Defendant's
arrest. Nevertheless, Officer Gordon testified that his
opinion would not have changed even had he known Defendant
was a registered guest.
Government offered Corporal Justin Miller as its second
witness. Corporal Miller conducted the traffic stop on the
evening of the arrest and has been employed by the Horry
County Police Department for fourteen years. Corporal Miller
was assigned to the Street Crimes Unit on the evening of
Defendant's arrest. Corporal Miller testified that
Officer Gordon called out two vehicles-Defendant's Audi
and a red Cadillac. An unmarked vehicle driven by another
officer observed Defendant commit a traffic violation, and
Corporal Miller then stopped Defendant's vehicle.
Corporal Miller testified that he believed he had reasonable
suspicion to detain Defendant based on his knowledge of why
Officer Gordon was at the Sea Mist Resort and based on
Officer Gordon calling out Defendant's vehicle.
Miller stopped Defendant and asked him for his license,
registration, and proof of insurance. Corporal Miller relayed
this information to dispatch, and while he was waiting for a
response, asked Defendant to step out of the vehicle for
questioning. Defendant explained that he was staying at the
Sea Mist Resort while in Myrtle Beach doing hurricane relief
work. Corporal Miller asked the Defendant for consent to
search his vehicle, and Defendant declined. Corporal Miller
then returned to his patrol car and radioed that he needed a
drug dog at the scene because he could not get into
Defendant's vehicle. While waiting on the canine,
Corporal Miller started to write Defendant a ticket. He
finished writing the ticket and running Defendant's
information through dispatch before the canine officer
arrived at the scene.
the canine officer arrived, she walked her dog around the
vehicle. It is not entirely clear from the video's angle,
but it appears that the dog alerted on the driver's side
of Defendant's vehicle. Officers searched Defendant's
vehicle and found a variety of drugs and firearms, which
resulted in Defendant's arrest.
Amendment and Traffic Stops
Fourth Amendment provides in relevant part that ‘[t]he
right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses,
papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and
seizures, shall not be violated.'” United
States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400, 404 (2012) (quoting U.S.
Const. amend. IV). “Time and again, [the Supreme] Court
has observed that searches and seizures conducted outside the
judicial process, without prior approval by judge or
magistrate are per se unreasonable under the Fourth
Amendment-subject only to a few specifically established and
well delineated exceptions.” Minnesota v.
Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366, 372 (internal quotation marks
omitted). “The exclusionary rule ‘generally
prohibits the introduction at criminal trial of evidence
obtained in violation of a defendant's Fourth Amendment
rights.” United States v. Stephens, 764 F.3d
327, 335 (4th Cir. 2014) (quoting Penn. Bd. of Prob.
& Parole v. Scott, 524 U.S. 357, 359 (1998)). The
purpose of the exclusionary rule “is to deter future
Fourth Amendment violations.” Davis v. United
States, 564 U.S. 229, 236- 37 (2011).
detention of individuals during the stop of an automobile by
the police, even if only for a brief period and for a limited
purpose, constitutes a ‘seizure' of
‘persons' within the meaning of [the Fourth
Amendment].” Whren v. United States, 517 U.S.
806, 809-10 (1996) (citations omitted). “An automobile
stop is thus subject to the constitutional imperative that it
not be ‘unreasonable' under the
circumstances.” Id. at 810. “As a
general matter, the decision to stop an automobile is
reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe a
traffic violation has occurred.” Id.
(citations omitted). Thus, “[o]bserving a traffic
violation provides sufficient justification for a police
officer to detain the offending vehicle for as long as it
takes to perform the traditional incidents of a routine
traffic stop.” United States v. Branch, 537
F.3d 328, 335 (4th Cir. 2008).
a motor vehicle has been lawfully detained for a traffic
violation, the police officers may order the driver to get
out of the vehicle without violating the Fourth
Amendment's proscription of unreasonable searches and
seizures.” Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S.
106, 111 n.6 (1977). Officers may then conduct unrelated
investigations by questioning the driver or passengers.
Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1615
(2015) (“An officer, in other words, may conduct
certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful traffic
stop.”). A traffic stop “can become unlawful if
it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to
complete [the] mission” of performing the necessary
checks on the driver and issuing a warning or ticket.
Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405, 406 (2005);
see also Branch, 537 F.3d at 335 (“[P]ursuant
to such a stop, a police officer may ‘request a
driver's license and vehicle registration, run a computer
check, and issue a citation.'” (quoting United
States v. Foreman, 369 F.3d 776, 781 (4th Cir. 2004)).
goal of pretextual traffic stops is simple. It is to find a
constitutionally permissible way to search the vehicle. While
the Supreme Court has held that officers do not need a
warrant to search a vehicle for contraband, they must have
probable cause that the vehicle contains contraband. See
California v. Carney, 471 U.S. 386, 390 (1985)
(recognizing the automobile exception to the Fourth
Amendment's warrant requirement); see also
Pennsylvania v. Labron, 518 U.S. 938, 940 (1996)
(“If a car is readily mobile and probable cause exists
to believe it contains contraband, the Fourth Amendment thus
permits police to search the vehicle without more.”
(citing Carney, 471 U.S. at 393)). Often during
traffic stops, law enforcement will observe contraband in
plain view the vehicle, which provides probable cause for a
search. United States v. Green, 599 F.3d 360, 376
(4th Cir. 2010). Other times, the driver may consent to a
search of the vehicle. Schneckloth v. Bustamonte,
412 U.S. 218 (1973).
neither of these situations applies, there are still means by
which law enforcement can develop probable cause. For
example, “[a] canine sniff is . . . constitutionally
acceptable if performed within ‘the time reasonably
required' to issue a traffic citation.”
Branch, 537 F.3d at 335 (quoting Illinois v.
Caballes, 543 U.S. 405 (2005)). “This is because a
dog sniff is not a search within the meaning of the Fourth
Amendment, and it therefore requires no additional
justification.” Id. at 335-36 (citations
omitted). The timing of the canine sniff, however, is
critical when evaluating the propriety of a search during a
traffic stop. This issue was most recently addressed by the
Supreme Court in Rodriguez v. United States, 135
S.Ct. 1609 (2015).
Rodriguez, the Supreme Court “granted
certiorari to resolve a division among lower courts on the
question whether police routinely may extend an
otherwise-completed traffic stop, absent reasonable
suspicion, in order to conduct a dog sniff.” 135 S.Ct.
at 1614. The Court first outlined the “mission”
of a traffic stop-”to address the traffic violation
that warranted the stop and to attend to related safety
concerns.” Id. (internal citations omitted).
“Beyond determining whether to issue a traffic ticket,
an officer's mission includes ‘ordinary inquiries
incident to [the traffic] stop.'” Id. at
1615 (quoting Caballes, 543 U.S. at 408).
“Typically such inquiries involve checking the
driver's license, determining whether there are
outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the
automobile's registration and proof of insurance.”
Id. (citations omitted). The Court noted “[a]
dog sniff, by contrast, is a measure aimed at
‘detect[ing] evidence of ordinary criminal
wrongdoing.'” Id. (quoting
Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32, 40-41 (2000).
The Court thus determined that “a dog sniff is not
fairly characterized as part of the officer's traffic
mission.” Id. Because of this, the Court held
that law enforcement may not extend an
otherwise-completed traffic stop to conduct a dog sniff
absent reasonable suspicion. Id. at 1616-17
(remanding the case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals
for a determination of whether officers had reasonable
suspicion to detain Mr. Rodriguez beyond completion of the
traffic infraction investigation).
concept of reasonable suspicion, like probable cause, is not
‘readily, or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of
legal rules.'” United States v. Sokolow,
490 U.S. 1, 7 (1989) (quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462
U.S. 213, 232 (1983)). Courts have struggled to neatly define
the concept of reasonable suspicion, “[b]ut the essence
of all that has been written is that the totality of the
circumstances-the whole picture-must be taken into
account.” United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S.
411, 417 (1981). “Based upon that whole picture the
detaining officers must have a particularized and objective
basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of
criminal activity.” Id. at 417-18 (citations
omitted). “[T]he evidence thus collected must be seen
and weighed not in terms of library analysis by scholars, but
as understood by those versed in the field of law
enforcement.” Id. at 418; see also United
States v. Lender, 985 F.2d 151, 154 (4th Cir. 1993)
(“Reasonable suspicion is a commonsensical proposition.
Courts are not remiss in crediting the practical experience
of officers who observe on a daily basis what transpires on
the street.”). Indeed, “[r]easonable suspicion is
a commonsense, nontechnical standard that deal[s] with the
factual and practical considerations of everyday life on
which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians,
act.” United States v. Bowman, 884 F.3d 200,
213 (4th Cir. 2018) (internal quotations and citations
omitted). “[I]n determining whether the officer acted
reasonably in such circumstances, due weight must be given,
not to his inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or
‘hunch, ' but to the specific reasonable inferences
which he is entitled to draw from the facts in light of his
experience.” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27
(1968) (citation omitted).
recent years, the Fourth Circuit has addressed the issue of
reasonable suspicion in the context of traffic stops in
several opinions. A brief overview of several of these
States v. Foreman (2003)
United States v. Foreman, 369 F.3d 776 (4th Cir.
2003), the defendant was stopped early one morning by a
Virginia State Police Trooper who was working a narcotics
interdiction assignment on the highway. The Trooper observed
the defendant in a “tense posture” driving a
vehicle while “holding the steering wheel with both
hands and staring straight ahead as he passed [the Trooper]
on Route 13.” Id. at 778. The Trooper observed
two traffic violations-(1) driving at an excessive speed and
(2) obstruction of the defendant's view by several air
fresheners-and pulled the defendant over. Id. When
the Trooper approached the vehicle, he observed the
defendant's “pulse beating through his shirt, his
hands visibly shaking, and the carotid artery on his neck
throbbing more noticeably than the ‘thousands of
people' that [the Trooper] had stopped in the past.
Id. Additionally, the Trooper observed a “fold
of currency” in the center console but saw no luggage
in the vehicle. Id. at 778-79.
Trooper checked the defendant's driver's license and
had the defendant sit in the passenger's seat of the
Trooper's vehicle. Id. at 779. While the Trooper
waited for the license check to come back, another officer
arrived with a drug dog and the Trooper began to question the
defendant about his trip. Id. The defendant
responded that he was returning from a one-day trip to New
York City where he helped his brother, who had recently been
evicted from his home. Id. The Trooper spoke to the
defendant about the problem of gun and drug smuggling on the
highway and “observed that [the defendant's]
breathing became heavier and the pulsating of his carotid
artery became more obvious.” Id.
defendant's license check came back clean, and the
Trooper gave him a verbal warning. Id. The Trooper
and the defendant exchanged a sweaty handshake and, though
the defendant was free to leave, the Trooper asked the
defendant if he could ask a few more questions, and the
defendant agreed. Id. However, the defendant
declined the Trooper's request for consent to search the
vehicle. Id. The Trooper then had his colleague walk
the drug dog around the vehicle, and the dog alerted to the
exterior of the vehicle. Id. at 780. Officers
searched the vehicle, found $800 in cash, one kilogram of
cocaine, and 10.5 grams of cocaine base, and the defendant
was arrested. Id.
defendant was indicted and moved to suppress the evidence
obtained during the search of his vehicle. Id. at
780-82. The district court found that the initial stop ended
once the Trooper and the defendant shook hands and held that
the Trooper seized the defendant for a second time when the
dog sniff was conducted. Id. at 782. Because of
this, the district court held that the Trooper “was not
entitled to rely on any factors tending to show reasonable
suspicion that occurred prior to the termination of the