SHORT DELAY TO ALLOW DRUG-SNIFFING DOG TO DO ITS WORK NOT UNREASONABLE UNDER FOURTH AMENDMENT
On March 23, 2018, a 3-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit decided the matter of United States v. Favreau, which involved a motion to suppress evidence discovered after a traffic stop. The Defendant argued that his detention of about three minutes after the conclusion of a traffic stop to allow a drug-sniffing dog to sniff around his vehicle amounted to an unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The police in Favreau suspected that the Defendant was a drug dealer, and they began to follow him in two vehicles from when he left his house to when he drove to a store, and then when he drove away from the store. During this observation period, the police observed the Defendant to make an abrupt direction change, to enter and leave a store several times, and to “look intently up and down the street” before getting back in his car after leaving the store. The police also observed some traffic violations.
After observing said traffic violations, the police pulled the Defendant over and had interaction with him at his window. The Defendant appeared nervous, and accused the police officers of surveilling him (which in fact they had been). In response to questioning, the Defendant claimed that he was headed home.
In ruling on the motion to suppress, the First Circuit found that the police had the right to pull the Defendant over for his traffic violations, irrespective of any ulterior motive for the stop. The panel further found that the police had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity after their brief interaction with the Defendant at roadside, due to his (1) accusing them of tailing him (which suggested that the Defendant’s evasive driving manifested by reversing direction was done with the intent to evade police detection); (2) lying about his destination; and (3) being excessively nervous.
The Appels Court then held that the three minutes that it took for the police to search the vehicle’s exterior with a drug-sniffing dog was not an unreasonable detention on reasonable suspicion that would violate the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, the Court ruled, the dog sniffing was lawful, and the dog’s alert to the presence of drugs gave the police probable cause to arrest the Defendant and perform a thorough search of his vehicle.
Kevin D. Quinlan