Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona drug case involving the defendant’s motion to suppress hundreds of pounds of marijuana found in his vehicle. Ultimately, the court found that the police officer unnecessarily and unjustifiably extended the duration of the traffic stop. Thus, the court held that the defendant was illegally seized and any evidence recovered as a result of the search could not be used at trial.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, a state trooper observed the defendant following another vehicle too closely on Interstate 40. The trooper initiated a traffic stop, obtaining the defendant’s information. The trooper then asked the defendant to exit his car and sit in the front seat of the patrol vehicle.
At this point, the trooper’s drug-detection dog, which was seated directly behind the defendant, began barking. In response, the defendant became nervous; however, he continued to answer the trooper’s routine questions. The trooper verified the information provided by the defendant and issued a traffic citation.
As the defendant was leaving, he made casual conversation with the trooper, who responded by asking potentially incriminating questions about the defendant’s criminal involvement. The defendant denied being engaged in any criminal activity, but the trooper, sensing the defendant was nervous, asked to check the defendant’s pulse. Detecting a rapid pulse, the trooper asked if he could search the defendant’s car. The defendant asked if he was being detained, and if not, if he could be on his way. The trooper searched the defendant’s care nonetheless, finding over 300 pounds of marijuana.
The defendant filed a pre-trial motion to suppress the marijuana, arguing that the search of his vehicle was constitutionally problematic in that the trooper impermissibly extended the duration of the traffic stop. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, he was convicted, and he then filed an appeal.
The Appellate Decision
On appeal, the court reversed the lower court, finding that it should have granted the defendant’s motion to suppress. The court explained that a traffic stop must “last no longer than necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop.” Here, the court found that by engaging in the questioning of the defendant after he had been issued a traffic citation the trooper impermissibly extended the length of the traffic scope for reasons that did not indicate any wrongdoing. The court noted that the defendant provided honest answers to the trooper’s questions, and the trooper’s actions were based on a “hunch,” rather than evidence.
Have You Bene Arrested after an Arizona Traffic Stop?
If you face Arizona drug charges stemming from a traffic stop, contact the Law Office of James E. Novak for immediate assistance. Attorney Novak is a veteran Maricopa County criminal defense attorney with extensive experience litigating pre-trial motions to exclude potentially harmful evidence. He commands an in-depth understanding of both state and federal search and seizure law, which he uses to aggressively defend his clients’ rights at every stage of the process. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, call the Law Office of James E. Novak at