United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ENTRY ON MOTION TO SUPPRESS
WALTON PRATT, JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Defendant Myron Hamilton's
(“Hamilton”) Motion to Suppress Evidence and
Request for An Evidentiary Hearing (Filing No. 22).
Following a traffic stop and search of his vehicle, Hamilton
was charged with two counts of Felon in Possession of a
Firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The
issue before the Court is whether the traffic stop was
prolonged beyond that necessary to issue a traffic citation,
in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Court previously
determined the material facts are not in dispute and denied
Hamilton's request for an evidentiary hearing.
(Filing No. 34.) Pursuant to Federal Rule of
Criminal Procedure 12(d), the Court now states its findings
of fact and conclusions of law and determines that the Motion
to Suppress should be denied.
FINDINGS OF FACT
Smith (“Officer Smith”) has worked in law
enforcement since March 2011 and since May 2018 has been an
officer with the Fishers Indiana Police Department.
(Filing No. 30-2 at 1.) During his law enforcement
career Officer Smith has conducted approximately 4, 500
traffic stops and has identified several behavioral patterns
in drivers and passengers that he considers suspicious and
have led him to believe that criminal behavior may be
occurring. Id. Those factors include: nervous and
fidgety behavior, providing false or inaccurate information
regarding identity, providing inconsistent responses to
questions, and lack of identifying information such as a
driver's license or identification card. Id. at
following facts are corroborated by an audio and video
recording of the traffic stop. (SeeFiling No. 30-1.)
On September 11, 2018, Officer Smith observed a 2007 Dodge
Sedan exceeding the speed limit and he initiated a traffic
stop at approximately 10:10 p.m. He approached the passenger
side of the vehicle and came into contact with Hamilton, the
front seat passenger and registered owner of the vehicle.
Lashawndrea Bowie (“Bowie”), Hamilton's
girlfriend, was driving the vehicle and her two year old son
was in the backseat. Officer Smith asked where they were
coming from and Bowie stated that she and Hamilton had just
left the bank and made a deposit. (Filing No. 30-2 at
2.) Officer Smith advised that he was not going to write
her a ticket, rather he would give her a warning. He asked
both Hamilton and Bowie for their identification. Hamilton
provided identification; however, Bowie did not have a
driver's license or other identification on her person.
Id. Officer Smith requested that Bowie write her
name and social security number on a piece of paper and asked
if there were any weapons or drugs inside of the vehicle.
Hamilton responded by stating loudly, “Hell no, there
are no guns or drugs in here.” Id. Officer
Smith noticed that Hamilton's belt was undone, and his
pants were unfastened. Id. Hamilton also nervously
looked at the center console area. Id.
approximately 10:14 p.m., Officer Smith returned to his
vehicle and began the routine process of running
Hamilton's and Bowie's information through police
databases to ensure Bowie had a valid driver's license
and to determine whether Bowie or Hamilton had any
outstanding warrants. While running Hamilton's
information through the system, Officer Smith saw that
Hamilton had prior arrests for gun and drug related charges.
Because he was suspicious, Officer Smith also requested a
drug detection canine to the scene. Id. at 2-3.
to locate Bowie in any police database based on the
information that she provided, Officer Smith returned to the
vehicle at 10:21 p.m. and asked Bowie to rewrite the last
four digits of her social security number. Bowie complied and
Officer Smith returned to his vehicle to run the information.
At approximately 10:22 p.m., the drug detection canine
officer arrived on scene and at approximately 10:23 p.m.
dispatch confirmed that Bowie did, in fact, have a valid
driver's license and no outstanding warrants. Officer
Smith returned to the vehicle and requested that Hamilton
step out of the vehicle so that he could conduct a pat down
of his person. Hamilton agreed. During the pat down Officer
Smith discovered prescription pills in Hamilton's pocket
and Hamilton admitted that he did not have a prescription for
the pills. Officer Smith determined that he had probable
cause to arrest Hamilton for the non-prescribed pills and
instructed the canine handler to conduct a sweep of the
vehicle. At approximately 10:28 p.m., the canine gave a
positive indication for the presence of narcotics, the
vehicle was searched and a SCCY 9mm handgun and a Glock 21 45
caliber handgun were located in the center console.
Id. at 4.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Motion to Suppress, Hamilton asserts that the evidence
obtained against him as a result of the traffic stop and the
subsequent search of his vehicle violated the Fourth
Amendment of the United States Constitution. Specifically, he
argues the traffic stop was unreasonably prolonged and
“task could have been accomplished more expeditiously
than the eighteen (18) minute delay between the stop …
and the ‘alert' of the K-9.” (Filing No.
23 at 2.). Hamilton does not challenge the lawfulness of
the traffic stop and he concedes that Bowie exceeded the
speed limit. He argues only that the duration of the traffic
stop was excessive to complete the tasks of writing a warning
ticket to Bowie and amounted to an on-scene investigation
into other crimes. (Filing No. 22 at 3.) Hamilton
asserts that the suspicious activity noted by Officer
Smith-that Hamilton's pants were “undone”,
and he had just been to the bank to make a deposit at 10:00
p.m.-was insufficient to create a reasonable suspicion that
criminal activity might be “afoot.” He notes that
Officer Smith did not detect an odor of marijuana or report
any “furtive movements” to justify the 18 minute
stop. Thus, under a “totality of the
circumstances” test, he asserts that Officer Smith had
no articulable facts to extend the detention beyond the time
necessary to write a traffic ticket or warning.
contrast, the Government contends that the traffic stop was
not unreasonably prolonged, and that Officer Smith developed
reasonable suspicion of a crime independent of the traffic
violation to justify the deployment of the canine and the
subsequent search of Hamilton's vehicle. (Filing No.
traffic stop that is “lawful at its inception”
can nonetheless violate the Fourth Amendment if it is
“prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to
complete” the initial mission of the stop. Illinois
v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405, 407 (2005). The United States
Supreme Court has made clear that “an officer's
inquiries into matters unrelated to the justification for the
traffic stop, do not convert the encounter into something
other than a lawful seizure, so long as those inquiries do
not measurably extend the duration of the stop.”
See Muehler v. Mena, 544 U.S. 93, 100-101, 125 S.Ct.
1465, 161 L.Ed.2d 299 (2005). The Supreme Court's
decision in Mena, confirms that an officer can
validly ask questions during a lawful traffic stop that are
unrelated to the stop. See United States v.
Alcaraz-Arellano, 441 F.3d 1252, 1258 10th Cir. 2006)
(holding, in light of Mena, that as long as
officer's questioning does not extend length of traffic
detention, there is no Fourth Amendment issue regarding the
content of the officer's questions); United States v.
Wallace, 429 F.3d 969, 974 (10th Cir. 2005).
parties cite to United States v. Rodriguez, 135
S.Ct. 1609, 1614-15 (2015) and note that traffic stops are
not deemed unconstitutional based on their duration as long
as the stop is not unreasonably prolonged. In
Rodriguez, the Supreme Court considered
“whether police routinely may extend an
otherwise-completed traffic stop, absent reasonable
suspicion, in order to conduct a dog sniff.” The court
held that “the Fourth Amendment tolerate[s] certain
unrelated investigations that [do] not lengthen the roadside
detention.” Id. at 1614. Unrelated inquiries
may not measurably prolong a traffic stop, although an
officer may conduct ordinary inquiries incident to the stop
such as questions involving the driver's license, the
vehicle's registration, and whether there are outstanding
warrants for the driver. Id. at 1615. These
activities are all related to the mission and objective of
enforcing the traffic code, and “ensuring that vehicles
on the road are operated safely and responsibly.”
Id. Because traffic stops are “especially
fraught with danger to police officers, ” an officer
may also take “certain negligibly burdensome
precautions in order to complete his mission safely.”
Id. at 1616 (citing Arizona v. Johnson, 555
U.S. 323, 330, 129 S.Ct. 781, 172 L.Ed.2d 694 (2009)). Dog
sniffs, the court said, may not be fairly characterized as
part of the officer's traffic mission, and so dog sniffs
may not prolong or add time to the stop unless supported
separately by individualized, reasonable suspicion.
Rodriguez, 135 S.Ct. at 1616-17.
the duration of the traffic stop was reasonable, and thus did
not violate Hamilton's Fourth Amendment rights. The
entire length of the stop was approximately 18 minutes from
the time Officer Smith activated his overhead lights until
the drug detection canine arrived and alerted on the vehicle.
The stop was initiated at approximately 10:10 p.m., and it
was not until 10:23 p.m. that Officer Smith was able to
verify Bowie's identification and complete the warrant
checks. Officer Smith's questioning of Hamilton and Bowie
while investigating their identities did not prolong the
stop. Instead, a large majority of the time during the stop
was to conduct a computerized identification and warrant
check because Bowie, the driver of the vehicle, did not have
a driver's license or other identification on her person.
Additional delay is attributed to the social security number
that Bowie initially provided which was either incorrect or
illegible and Officer Smith had to have her re-write the last
four digits of her social security number. The Seventh
Circuit has found such a delay to be reasonable. See
U.S. v. Wilkie, 182 Fed.Appx. 533 (7th Cir. 2006)
(defendants were partly to blame for the length of the stop,
which lasted approximately 20 minutes before the stopping
officer had a dog perform a drug sniff, as one
defendant's driver's license was missing information,
such that the stopping officer had to ask him additional
questions to determine whether it was valid, and the other
defendant spent several minutes unsuccessfully trying to
locate proof of insurance); U.S. v. McBride, 635
F.3d 879 (7th Cir. 2011) (25-minute detention of defendant
from initiation of traffic stop of defendant's vehicle
until defendant consented to search of the vehicle was not
unreasonable; officer spent most of the stop performing
routine police work, such as gathering information about the
vehicle and its occupants, relaying information to dispatch,
and writing a ticket, and the officer's additional
questions took roughly two minutes).
approximately 10:23 p.m. the canine handler arrived and began
the sniff. During that time Hamilton was asked and consented
to stepping outside the vehicle for a pat-down. The pat down
resulted in pills being located in Hamilton's pocket, for
which Hamilton admitted he did not have a prescription.
Hamilton concedes that the search of his vehicle
after the K-9 alert satisfied the Fourth Amendment
under the “exigent circumstances” or automobile
exception to the warrant requirement. (Filing No. 22 at
3.) Because approximately 13 minutes of the 18 minute
stop are ...