Second District Court of Appeals Holds Canine Sniff Invalid

large dog unattended

On May 5, 2017, the Second District Court of Appeals issued a decision affirming the Darke County Common Pleas Court’s ruling suppressing evidence obtained from a canine sniff of a suspect’s vehicle during a traffic stop.

In the case of State v. Hall, 2017-Ohio-2682, Patrolman Towe conducted a traffic stop of Hall’s vehicle at 1:31 a.m. after observing the vehicle roll through two stop signs.  Towe approached the car and made contact with Hall, the driver, and two female occupants.  Towe discovered that Hall and his front-seat passenger did not have driver’s license or other identification in their possession.  As a result, he asked their names and dates of birth to confirm their identities.  Hall responded truthfully, but Towe misunderstood him and though his first name was “Tyler” rather than “Taylor.”  The misunderstanding caused trouble with the dispatcher when Towe attempted to confirm Hall’s identity.  Towe returned to the stopped car and obtained Hall’s social security number, which resulted in a correct identification and confirmation that Hall had a valid driver’s license.  This occurred at approximately 1:42 or 1:43 a.m.  Towe testified that it normally takes him 12 to 13 minutes to complete a traffic ticket once he has all of the driver’s information.

While he was in the process of confirming Hall’s identity, Towe requested a canine unit to perform a drug sniff on the stopped car.  After completing the identification check, Towe approached Hall and his companions and advised them that the canine unit was en route.  Before the dog arrived, Towe spoke with another officer who had come to provide assistance.  Tow told the officer that he did not believe Hall would consent to a search of the car.  The officer advised Towe to “stall them.”  After confirming Hall’s identity and calling for the canine unit, Towe then did nothing to process the traffic stop for approximately eight minutes.  He admitted during the suppression hearing that he just stood on the sidewalk even though he had all of the information needed to complete a citation.  He denied stalling, however, explaining that he was deliberating about whether to issue a traffic citation or give a warning.  The canine unit arrived at about 1:52 a.m.  The drug sniff started at about 1:54 a.m.  The dog alerted and made a positive “hit” on drug-related contraband, including precursors for manufacturing methamphetamine, just before 1:55 a.m.

Hall was indicted on Illegal Assembly or Possession of Chemicals to Manufacture Drugs and Possession of Criminal Tools.  He filed a Motion to Suppress Evidence and a hearing was held.

The trial court held in Hall’s favor and found that the evidence had been obtained in violation of Hall’s constitutional rights.  The trial court found several facts in the case to be problematic.  First, there was a delay of approximately 12 minutes in obtaining Hall’s correct name.  When advised of the identification problems by dispatch, Towe should not have waited but should have more promptly acted to clarify Hall’s name.  Second, Towe was apparently told to “stall for more time” after the other suspicions about the vehicle seemed to prompt the interest in a free air sniff.  These other suspicions were not pertaining to the traffic stop and caused actual delay in completing the traffic stop.  Third, from approximately 1:37 a.m. until 1:52 a.m., there were no steps taken to continue writing the traffic citation or to process the traffic stop; this time was devoted to steps in furtherance of the K-9 sniff.

The trial court found credible the testimony of Towe that the usual time for completing a traffic stop with issuance of a citation is 12-13 minutes.  Under a typical scenario, the traffic stop should have taken from 1:31 a.m. until 1:44 a.m.  Even if the misidentification delay from 1:31 a.m. until 1:44 a.m. is attributed to Hall, the traffic stop still should have ended by 1:53 a.m. – or even sooner if processing the traffic citation had occurred while the identification was being resolved.  The free air sniff by the K-9 did not commence until at least 1:54 a.m.  The additional questioning and detention of Hall which ultimately led to the discovery of the precursors occurred even later.  The time of delay under these circumstances was found to be an intrusion of Hall’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure related to a traffic stop.

In finding that the trial court made no error in its ruling, the Second District stated that the problem here was not with the additional time needed to confirm Hall’s identity, but with the additional time in which the traffic stop was not “expediently completed” and the officer delayed it to obtain a canine sniff.  The Second District relied upon a United State Supreme Court case holding that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit unrelated investigative activities during a traffic stop, including the use of a canine unit, provided those activities do not prolong the stop.

Once again, just like the rest of us, law enforcement officers are not immune from making an occasional mistake in the performance of their duties.  Sometimes the mistakes of law enforcement officers can result in serious criminal charges and consequences.  An experienced criminal defense attorney can challenge evidence that has been unlawfully obtained.  If you or someone you know is being prosecuted for a criminal offense contact Criminal Defense Attorney Jonathan Horwitz at Horwitz & Horwitz, LLC, located in Centerville, Ohio.