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United States v. Mubdi, No. 10-5008

Decided: August 10, 2012

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Mubdi’s motion to suppress evidence seized during a traffic stop, finding that the police officers involved in the traffic stop at issue had probable cause to execute the stop and reasonable suspicion to prolong the traffic stop.  Additionally, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s imposition of a 240-month sentence for Mubdi’s drug convictions based on Supreme Court precedent establishing that a court’s decision to increase a minimum sentence based on judicial factfinding does not violate any rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the Constitution.

Mubdi first argued that the officers who carried out the traffic stop underlying his claims lacked probable cause to believe that he was speeding or following too closely.  The Fourth Circuit disagreed, noting that an officer’s visual observation of a driver’s speed “may alone be sufficient to establish probable cause.”  The Court found that the “touchstone of the probable cause inquiry is – as always – reasonableness,” and the Court determined that the officers’ visual speed estimates were reasonable given the facts of the case.  Thus, the Court found sufficient support establishing that the officers had probable cause to carry out the traffic stop and found no clear error in the district court’s conclusion that the officers reasonably believed that Mubdi was speeding.

Next, the Court affirmed the district court’s alternative finding supporting the officers’ decision to institute the traffic stop based on their belief that Mubdi was following too closely behind one the patrol cars.  Ultimately, the Court determined that even if the officers’ were mistaken in their estimate of the distance between the two cars, “such a mistake is patently a mistake of fact.”  The Court noted that as long as an officer’s mistake in making a traffic stop is reasonable, such mistake does not undermine a finding of probable cause.  It then found any mistake on the officers’ part to be reasonable under the circumstances and affirmed the district court’s decision that the traffic stop was justified on this alternative basis.

With respect to whether the officers unlawfully prolonged the traffic stop, and consequently violated Mubdi’s constitutional rights, the Court first found that the officers’ actions at issue “were no more intrusive than necessary and that they diligently pursued a means of investigation to confirm or dispel their suspicions.”  The Court highlighted the factual circumstances that supported the officers’ decision to extend the traffic stop and to conduct a canine sniff of Mubdi’s car.  The Court reviewed the district court’s decision based on a totality of the circumstances analysis and affirmed the district court’s decision that the officers established the reasonable suspicion needed to support the extended duration of the traffic stop.  Therefore, the Court upheld the district court’s denial of Mubdi’s motion to suppress on this basis.

Finally, the Court concluded that Supreme Court precedent foreclosed Mubdi’s argument that the district court violated his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights by increasing his statutory mandatory minimum sentence for the drug offenses based on improper judicial factfinding.  Accordingly, the Court affirmed the sentence imposed by the district court.

Full Opinion

– Allison Hite