The Eighth Circuit decided the issue of whether a highway trooper’s search of a defendant’s trunk during a traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution where the defendant appeared nervous, could not respond directly to the trooper’s questions regarding his travel itinerary and lied to the trooper about his past arrests for drug violations.
In this case, Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper Rutledge pulled over a vehicle driven by Riley, the defendant-appellant, on a Missouri interstate after observing Riley twice cross the center line. Trooper Rutledge contacted Riley at his car and asked for his driver’s license and rental agreement. Rutledge then asked Riley to accompany him to his patrol car so that Rutledge could run a records check, and Riley complied.
During the course of their exchange, Trooper Rutledge observed that Riley seemed very nervous because he could see Riley’s pulse in Riley’s neck and stomach. Riley was also fidgeting, and his breathing was “shallow and rapid.” Also, Riley could not give Rutledge direct responses to questions about his travel itinerary. When Rutledge asked Riley about his past arrest history, Riley stated that he once was arrested for domestic violence. Rutledge then received information from dispatch that Riley had a criminal history of several drug violations and several felony arrests, including arrests for assaulting law enforcement.
Riley was arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a substance containing cocaine. Riley filed a motion to suppress the drug evidence seized from his car. The district court denied his motion. Riley then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
On appeal, Riley claimed the evidence found in the trunk of his vehicle should have been suppressed because: (1) there was no probable cause to stop Riley; (2) there was no reasonable suspicion to detain Riley to search his vehicle; (3) Trooper Rutledge’s method of questioning amounted to an unreasonable search; (4) the amount of time Riley was delayed for the drug detection dog was unreasonable; and (5) the search exceeded the proper scope of investigation. We address each argument in turn.
First, the court of appeals held that Trooper Rutledge’s credible testimony and video evidence of Rutledge and Riley discussing the reason for the traffic stop was because Rutledge observed Riley weaving across the highway center line was sufficient probable cause to initiate a traffic stop.
Second, the court of appeals held that Trooper Rutledge had reasonable suspicion to detain Riley in order to search Riley’s vehicle. The court found that Rutledge articulated more than a minimal justification for the stop, as he clearly articulated the exact suspicion that caused him to detain Riley when he announced to Riley that he believed he had drugs in the trunk of the vehicle after Riley refused to consent to the search. Further, Rutledge made several observations during his initial investigation of Riley’s traffic violation that supported Rutledge’s suspicion that criminal activity was afoot based on Riley’s nervousness, Riley’s “vague or conflicting answers to simple questions about his itinerary and Riley’s misrepresentation of his criminal drug arrests.
Third, the court of appeals held that Trooper Rutledge’s questions did not amount to an unreasonable search. The court determined that Trooper Rutledge’s questions did not extend the traffic stop because he only asked them while he was waiting for a report on Riley’s criminal history, which is permissible during the course of a traffic stop.
Fourth, the court of appeals held that the time spent waiting for a drug detection dog was not unreasonable. The court found that Trooper Rutledge called for a drug detection dog within eleven minutes of his initial traffic stop and immediately after he formed his reasonable suspicion that Riley had drugs in his vehicle. Thus, the court of appeals held that “the wait was unavoidable and not undue given the diligence shown by Rutledge.”
Fifth, the court of appeals held that Rutledge’s search of Riley’s vehicle after he was placed in custodial arrest did not exceed the proper scope of investigation. The court reasoned that the dog’s identification of drugs in Riley’s car provided probable cause that drugs were present, which entitled the officers to search the vehicle pursuant to the automobile exception to the warrant requirement.
Based on these reasons, the court of appeals found that there was no constitutional violation from the search of the trunk. Therefore, the court of appeals affirmed the district court’s denial of Riley’s motion to suppress.
The case is U.S. v. Riley, No. 11-3181, dated July 13, 2012. To review the full decision, visit: http://www.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/12/07/113181P.pdf.