Decided: January 17, 2014
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Herbert Green’s (“Green”) suppression motions based on the scope and duration of a traffic stop and the reliability of the drug-detection dog.
Trooper Daryl Johnson (“Johnson”) executed a traffic stop of Green’s vehicle because the windows appeared to be excessively tinted and the license plate was partially obscured. To begin the stop, Johnson approached Green’s vehicle and explained his reasons for making the stop. Johnson later testified that Green appeared to be excessively nervous and that the vehicle contained a strong “air-freshener” odor and had a “lived-in look.” After obtaining his license and registration, Johnson had Green accompany him to the patrol car so he could check Green’s information on his computer. While in the patrol car, Johnson reiterated the reasons for the traffic stop, questioned Green about his itinerary, and radioed Trooper Brian Dillon (“Dillon”), who was positioned some distance behind Johnson’s vehicle, to “come on up.” Soon after, Johnson’s computer program responded to his inquiry, notifying him of a protective order against Green, which alerted Johnson to potential officer safety issues. Johnson and Green then had a brief exchange about the protective order and Jonson requested additional information from dispatch. Thereafter, Johnson checked the window tint on Green’s vehicle and found that it was illegal. After informing Green that the tint was illegal, Johnson asked Green if there were any drugs in the vehicle. Johnson later testified that Green became visibly nervous and uncomfortable after being asked about drugs. He then questioned Green about his criminal history and requested a criminal history from dispatch. Green was not entirely truthful regarding his criminal history. Before receiving Green’s history from dispatch, Johnson left the patrol car and requested that Trooper Dillon conduct a free-air sniff using his drug-detection dog, Bono.
Bono alerted to the vehicle’s rear passenger panel. Just after completing the sniff, dispatch informed Johnson that Green’s criminal history raised multiple officer safety issues and included charges for homicide, carrying concealed weapons, robbery, kidnapping, and terroristic threats. Upon another officer’s arrival, the troopers began searching Green’s vehicle. The search revealed a duffle bag containing over one kilogram of cocaine and approximately $7,000 in cash. The entire traffic stop took place between 10:08:35 AM and 10:21:42 AM. Green was indicted for possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Following his indictment, Green moved to suppress the evidence found in the vehicle, contending that the traffic stop was unreasonable in its scope and duration, and that the delay was not justified by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The district court denied both motions. This appeal followed.
On appeal, the Fourth Circuit first addressed Green’s contention that the 14-minute period of detention between the initial stop and Bono’s alert was not reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the stop. The Court held that the delay, at most, amounted to a de minimis intrusion on Green’s liberty interest and thus did not constitute a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. In so holding, the Court noted that at all times before learning of Green’s criminal history, Johnson was focused on pursuing the reason for the initial stop. Next, the Court addressed Green’s challenge that Bono’s alert did not justify probable cause to search his vehicle because Bono’s track record in the field is not sufficiently reliable. Recognizing that, for numerous reasons, a drug-detection dog’s field performance does not accurately reflect the dog’s reliability; the Court held that the totality of the circumstances established Bono’s reliability in detecting drugs.
-W. Ryan Nichols