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United States v. Vaughan, No. 11-4863

Decided: November 29, 2012

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of a motion to suppress evidence obtained from a dog sniff search of a vehicle.  The court concluded reasonable suspicion of criminal activity existed at the moment the law enforcement officer, Homiak, determined that the driver and passenger’s explanations of their travels conflicted, between six and nine minutes after the stop.  The existence of reasonable suspicion allowed Homiak to briefly extend the stop to confirm or dispel his suspicion through the canine sweep of the vehicle.

Homiak initiated a traffic stop when he clocked the rental vehicle going 79 miles per hour in a 70 miles per hour zone.  The driver Vaughan appeared normal, but Scott, the passenger, appeared nervous.  Homiak noticed four phones in the center console, two of which were prepaid phones that are often used for drug transactions, as no personal information needs to be provided to obtain the phones.  Furthermore, Vaughan modified his explanation for his travels, and Vaughan and Scott’s travel explanations conflicted.

The totality of the circumstances was sufficient to generate reasonable suspicion of criminal activity “no later than the moment Scott volunteered an explanation for his travels that conflicted with Vaughan’s.”  Therefore, Homiak was justified in briefly extending the traffic stop.  The delay was reasonable, as it only took sixteen minutes from the beginning of the traffic stop for the drug dog to arrive, sweep the vehicle, and alert to the presence of drugs.

Full Opinion

-Jenna Hendricks