CRIMINAL PROCEDURE – Drug detection dog, automobile stop: Jimmy L. Epps v. Commonwealth of Kentucky (SC 8/27/2009)

Jimmy L. Epps v. Commonwealth of Kentucky
2007-SC-000312-DG August 27, 2009
Opinion by Justice Noble. All sitting; all concur.

A motorist was stopped by police for a traffic offense. Police called for a narcotic detection dog. The dog “hit” on the area where Epps, a passenger, was seated. The officer detected an object during his second Terry search of Epps, and he admitted to carrying crack cocaine. From the time of the stop until the time of Epps’ arrest, 90 minutes elapsed. Epps entered a conditional guilty plea. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction and remanded for a new trial, holding that the seizure violated Epps’ Fourth Amendment rights because it was unreasonably long. As a preliminary matter, the Court decided that Epps could properly challenge the stop of the driver’s car since Epps reasonably believed he was not free to leave without the officer’s permission (Brendlin). The Court went on to hold that while it was not unconstitutional for the police to call in the narcotic detection dog, the stop exceeded the time necessary to effectuate the original purpose of the stop. The Court distinguished this case from Meghoo—which involved a commercial truck driver stopped at a weigh station for a regulatory inspection. The Court noted such inspections, by their nature, involve a longer detention period than routine traffic stops of noncommercial vehicles.

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