Police did not prolong Mr. Stanford’s detention prior to using the drug dog; therefore, the trial court did not err in overruling Mr. Stanford’s motion to suppress.
State v. Stanford
2023 – Ohio – 1011
First District Appellate Court
Hamilton County, Ohio
March 29, 2023
In May of 2020, Cincinnati police spotted a “surf blue” Dodge Caliber traveling on the roadway near the neighborhood of Avondale. Police noted the unusual vehicle matched the description of a vehicle that had been involved in a shooting in downtown Cincinnati a few days prior. Several uniformed police officers initiated a traffic stop of the vehicle. The driver of the vehicle, Mr. Tony Stanford, slowly rolled the vehicle to a stop, and one of the officers believed he saw Mr. Stanford throw an object out of the vehicle.
Police approached Mr. Stanford’s vehicle with their guns drawn, and one of the officers instructed Mr. Stanford to throw the keys out of the window, and to walk backward toward the officers with his hands up. Mr. Stanford complied, and an officer handcuffed Mr. Stanford and placed him in the back of the cruiser. Officers attempted to contact the detective investigating the shooting while Mr. Stanford remained in the back of the police car. At the same time, an officer used a drug dog to canvass a grassy area near the side of the road where Mr. Stanford had stopped his vehicle.
One of the police officers told Mr. Stanford that Cincinnati Police had been on the lookout for his vehicle in connection with an earlier shooting. The officer told Mr. Stanford that police had been looking for a license plate that matched Mr. Stanford’s vehicle, although the officer later testified that he did not believe investigators had known the license-plate number of the suspected vehicle. The officer indicated to Mr. Stanford that he was waiting to hear from investigators before he could let Mr. Stanford leave or before he could proceed with a search of Mr. Stanford’s vehicle. The officer testified that he did not want to move forward with the investigation until he spoke to the detectives in charge of the shooting investigation, because he was concerned about contaminating the potential crime scene—the vehicle itself.
While Waiting for a Call Back from the Detective a Positive Canine Sniff Occurs
According to the officer’s body-worn camera, approximately 16 minutes after the initial stop, the officer took a phone call with the investigating detective’s partner in relation to the earlier shooting. During the call, the officer and the detective discussed a different vehicle that had been stopped by police, also in connection with the shooting. The officer testified that the vehicle was a “Chevy HHR.” The officer then told the detective that he intended to issue a “contact card” and “get things rolling.” After the phone call ended, an officer used the drug dog to conduct an open- air sniff of the perimeter of Mr. Stanford’s vehicle. The drug dog alerted to the presence of drugs inside the vehicle. Police then conducted a search of Mr. Stanford’s vehicle, which revealed cocaine and a large amount of cash.
The state indicted Mr. Stanford for one count of possession of cocaine and one count of trafficking in cocaine, both first-degree felonies. Mr. Stanford filed a motion to suppress, arguing that police had violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they unreasonably detained him prior to using a drug dog to conduct an open-air sniff of Mr. Stanford’s vehicle. After a hearing, the trial court overruled Mr. Stanford’s motion to suppress, and Mr. Stanford pleaded no contest to both charges. The trial court imposed an indefinite sentence of three to four-and-a-half years in prison on the trafficking count and a concurrent term of three years in prison on the possession count. Mr. Stanford appeals.
Under the Fourth Amendment, police must have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity prior to conducting an investigatory stop of a vehicle. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, (1968). “[P]olice are permitted to conduct a Terry stop to investigate completed felonies if they have reasonable suspicion to believe that the vehicle stopped was involved in criminal activity and the stop may produce evidence of a crime.” United States v. Marxen, 410 F.3d 326, 332 (6th Cir.2005)
Sufficiently Narrow Class of Vehicles
In determining whether police have reasonable suspicion that a vehicle may have been involved in a past felony, which would justify a Terry stop of that vehicle, courts have looked to whether the description of the vehicle used in the past crime “describes a sufficiently narrow class of vehicles.” United States v. Babb, 77 Fed.Appx. 761, 767 (6th Cir.2003)
Mr. Stanford does not challenge the basis of the investigatory stop by police. The arresting officer testified that Mr. Stanford’s “surf blue” Dodge Caliber was an unusual vehicle that had only been manufactured for two years. The vehicle also had tinted windows. Mr. Stanford’s vehicle matched the description of a vehicle that police had been looking for in connection with a recent shooting. Based on the rarity of Mr. Stanford’s vehicle, police had reasonable suspicion that Mr. Stanford’s vehicle may have been used in the earlier shooting, which justified the stop.
Did the Stop Exceed the ‘Rodriguez Moment’?
The question then becomes whether police unreasonably prolonged the investigative stop of Mr. Stanford’s vehicle to use the drug dog.
Nevertheless, the vehicle stop must be “limited in scope and degree of intrusion by its purpose and may last no longer than reasonably necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop.” United States v. Rodriguez, 575 U.S. 348, 354, (2015); United States v. Sharpe, 470 U.S. 675, (1985). Thus, police cannot prolong a traffic stop to conduct a drug-dog sniff, unless police have reasonable suspicion. Illinois v. Caballes at 543 U.S. 405, 407-408 (2005)
In Rodriguez, a police officer initiated a traffic stop of the defendant’s vehicle after the defendant’s car swerved off the road. The officer intended to issue the defendant a warning, but the officer decided to call for backup from a second officer so that he could use a drug dog. The officer held the defendant for seven or eight minutes after the completion of the traffic-violation investigation before the second officer arrived. The Rodriguez court determined that the “critical question” under the Fourth Amendment is whether the use of the drug dog prolonged the stop. Rodriguez at 357.
According to Mr. Stanford, the police detained Mr. Stanford beyond the shooting investigation in order to conduct the drug-dog sniff. This case does not involve a routine traffic stop where police had to wait for the arrival of a drug dog. The facts elicited from the motion-to-suppress hearing support the trial court’s findings that police stopped Mr. Stanford’s vehicle because his unusual vehicle matched a description of a vehicle that had been involved in a recent shooting, and the drug dog arrived on the scene contemporaneously with the initial stop. While waiting for detectives to return their call, police used the drug dog to sniff a grassy area near the vehicle, based on an officer’s belief that Mr. Stanford had thrown an object out of the vehicle window. Once the drug dog completed searching the hill, and after officers spoke with the detectives regarding the shooting investigation, police immediately used the drug dog to sniff Mr. Stanford’s vehicle.
Police did not prolong Mr. Stanford’s detention prior to using the drug dog; therefore, the trial court did not err in overruling Mr. Stanford’s motion to suppress. We overrule Mr. Stanford’s first assignment of error.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Stanford, 2023 – Ohio – 1011.
This case was issued by the First District Appellate Court and is only binding in Hamilton County, Ohio.
- The fundamental Fourth Amendment premise for canine stop detention was established by the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Rodriguez, 575 U.S. 348 (2015) when it held “Because addressing the infraction is the purpose of the stop, it may last no longer than is necessary to effectuate that purpose. Authority for the seizure ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are – or reasonably should have been completed … An officer, in other words, may conduct certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful traffic stop. But … he may not do so in a way that prolongs the stop, absent the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an individual.”. Hence the “Rodriguez Moment” is the moment at which the purpose of the stop has been completed. Because the officers continued to detain Mr. Stanford to determine if he was the suspect in a previous shooting the ‘purpose’ of the stop had not yet been completed and thus did not violate the “Rodriguez Moment”.
- Though not mentioned in this case the Sixth Circuit has previously held that extending a traffic stop beyond its purpose to facilitate a canine sniff, once reasonable suspicion is established, can be reasonable. “[T]he District Court found that Deputy Whitlock possessed reasonable suspicion that Defendants were engaged in the transportation of illegal drugs so as to detain Defendants for an additional minute or so beyond the purpose of the stop based on 1) Defendant’s implausible explanation for their cross-country trip. 2) Defendant’s inconsistent statements regarding their travel itinerary. 3) The possibility that at least of one of the Defendants were using cocaine; and 4) The Defendants’ nervous behavior during the stop. Accordingly … under a totality of the circumstances … the district court did not err in finding that Deputy Whitlock had formed reasonable suspicion that Defendants were carrying contraband sufficient to justify extending the purpose of the traffic stop to allow Spanky to do a canine sniff of the U-Haul.”. United States v. Hill, 195 F.3d 258 (6ht Cir. 1999). What this means is that law enforcement can extend a traffic stop if the officer establishes reasonable suspicion that the occupant(s) of the vehicle are involved in criminal activity. Keep in mind this will be the exception not the rule and law enforcement must firmly establish that the occupant(s) are involved in criminal activity to extend the traffic stop beyond the ‘Rodriguez Moment’. For more information on Canine Case law see https://www.objectivelyreasonable.com/category/canine/
- The Cincinnati Police Officers involved in this incident are not identified by name in the case. However, these officers, both the initial officers and the canine officers should be highly commended! Most especially that the initial officers recalled that the surf blue Dodge Caliber was involved in a previous drive by shooting. Well done CPD!
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