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Court Rules Traffic Stop Permissible

People v Joe, COA No. 323515


Search & seizure; Motion to suppress cocaine evidence; Alleged illegal seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment; People v. Henry (After Remand); People v. Chambers; “Plain view”; People v. Gonzalez


Rejecting the defendant’s claim that the length of the traffic stop and the continued police questioning were unreasonable, the court affirmed the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress the cocaine evidence.

The court concluded that a deputy (N) “permissibly stopped the car in which defendant was a passenger for violating the law by traveling above the speed limit.” N also “permissibly asked questions about the occupants’ destination and travel plans. When the answers he received were suspicious,” he asked follow-up questions. “At that point, defendant consented to a search of the car.” The court found that N “was diligent in pursing his investigation. He immediately called for backup. When backup arrived, the officers permissibly detained defendant and his brother in the police vehicle. While searching the car, the officers found an item commonly used in the delivery of cocaine.” At that point, N “was ‘justified in extending the detention long enough to resolve the suspicion raised.’” The court noted that less than 50 minutes after another deputy arrived to assist N with the search, he called “for K-9 assistance. In response to the dog’s alert to the presence of cocaine on the passenger side of the vehicle, the officers questioned defendant further. Defendant indicated that he had possessed cocaine but had disposed of it. At that point, having found no evidence of any crime, the officers decided to end the stop.” N then discovered “cocaine in the police car where defendant had been sitting.” The court was “not definitely and firmly convinced that the trial court made a mistake when it found that the officers’ actions and the length of the detention were reasonable.” There was no indication that N “failed to diligently pursue his investigation. To the contrary, this case presents an evolving fact pattern of suspicion and investigation.” N promptly responded to each new suspicion.

The court concluded “that the seizure continued to be valid throughout the course of the investigation.” As to defendant’s claim that the cocaine was the product of an illegal search, the court noted that “the cocaine was in plain view inside the police car.”


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