Court Finds Illegal Seizure in Berrien County


Traffic Stop

Case: People v. Kavanaugh

Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Published Opinion )

Issues:

Search & seizure; Principle that the stop of an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred; Whren v. United States; “Seizure” defined; United States v. Mendenhall; Principle that a dog sniff is not fairly characterized as part of the officer’s traffic mission; Rodriguez v. United States; Whether the traffic stop revealed a new set of circumstances that lead to a reasonably articulable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot; People v. Jenkins; Principle that a determination as to reasonable suspicion must be based on commonsense judgments & inferences about human behavior; People v. Williams; People v. Oliver; Reasonable & articulable suspicion; People v. Nelson; Principle that the refusal to consent to a search cannot serve as grounds for reasonable suspicion; Terry v. Ohio; United States v. Santos; Nervousness during a traffic stop; United States v. Richardson (6th Cir.); United States v. Simpson (10th Cir.); Alleged Brady issues; Brady v. Maryland; Mootness; People v. Cathey

Summary:

The court held that the officer’s (D) detention of the defendant-driver after the end of the traffic stop in order to wait for a police dog to conduct a “sniff” was unlawful under Rodriguez, and that the evidence obtained as a result of the detention must be suppressed.

He was convicted of possession with the intent to deliver between 5 and 45 kilograms of marijuana, which was found in his trunk during a search after a police dog alerted D to the marijuana’s smell. Defendant did not consent to the search after the initial stop, so D told him to wait as he was requesting that another officer bring a police dog to conduct the sniff. On appeal, the court rejected his argument that D lacked grounds to pull him over for a traffic stop, noting that he was pulled over for an improperly affixed license plate and for failing to signal a lane change onto an exit ramp. “Because the officer had such probable cause in this case, the traffic stop was lawful and did not violate the Fourth Amendment.” However, the court agreed with defendant that D lacked lawful grounds to detain him beyond the conclusion of the traffic stop. It noted that, “[h]aving been ordered by the officer to remain at the scene, defendant was obviously seized” under the law. It then concluded, based on a videotape of the stop, that D “did not have a reasonable suspicion of any criminal activity sufficient to justify his extension of the traffic stop to allow for a dog sniff.” His

“stated justifications were either not consistent with the videotape record or were not sufficient to create a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.” The court rejected D’s justifications for his suspicion, finding he “was never able to articulate any specific inferences of possible criminal activity.” It noted there was no indication of flight and defendant did not appear unusually nervous. Further, although defendant could not produce the registration or title for the vehicle, “the officer promptly ran the vehicle’s VIN number and determined that defendant was in fact the vehicle’s owner and that there were no warrants for him.” Further, although defendant and his passenger gave differing answers to some questions, “slightly different answers to three general questions, none of which go to criminal activity, by two people travelling together is not grounds to reasonably suspect them of a criminal activity.” Given its ruling, the court found defendant’s Brady issue moot.

Reversed and remanded.

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