CRIMINAL:  Search and seizure (investigative stop; plain smell by dogs)

Jathniel Chenault has appealed from the judgment entered pursuant to a conditional guilty plea convicting him of possession of a controlled substance and for being a persistent felony offender challenging the circuit court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence that he alleges police obtained in an improper search of his automobile.  COA disagreed, affirming the lower court.

During a routine traffic stop of an automobile owned and operated by Chenault due to its loud muffler and unilluminated rear license plate, the police officer obtained Chenault’s driver’s license and proof of insurance and
checked his license for active warrants. Although no active warrants appeared, the initial database search revealed prior charges for trafficking in a controlled substance and promoting contraband. At that point, two minutes into the traffic stop, the officer called for a K-9 unit while continuing to "write up" Chenault.  Fourteen minutes later, while the officer was still working on the citation, another officer arrived with a trained drug dog who later  alerted to the presence of narcotics at the driver’s door. The officers then began their own search of the interior which found crack  cocaine. 

COA rejected Chenault’s argument that Officer Gibbons detained him longer than necessary by unreasonably prolonging the time to complete his computer check and prepare the citation while waiting for the K-9 unit to arrive since it is well settled that an investigative stop of an automobile is constitutional as long as law enforcement officials have a reasonable suspicion — supported by specific and articulable facts — that the occupant of the vehicle has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense.

In addition to the requirement that the stop be justified at its inception, the police officer’s subsequent actions must be reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that gave credence to the initial stop; an investigative detention must be temporary and last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop with reasonableness measured in objective terms by examining the totality of the circumstances.

In this case, there is no dispute that the initial stop was justified due to the traffic violations Chenault committed.

The issue in this case is whether Chenault was then unreasonably detained after Officer Gibbons requested a K-9 unit.   It has previously been held that continued detention until the drug dog arrived was reasonable in that the officer “ursued his investigation in a diligent and reasonable manner and the purpose of the initial stop had not been completed before the canine unit arrived at the scene.

Because the purpose of the initial stop had not been completed before the K-9 unit arrived, COA perceived no unreasonable or unjustified detention, or any other constitutional implications.

it is well settled that “[a] positive indication by a properly trained dog is sufficient to establish probable cause for the presence of a controlled substance.” U.S. v. Diaz, 25 F.3d 392, 393-94 (6th Cir. 1994). Likewise, this Court has held that a positive alert by a drug dog “undoubtedly” provided officers with probable cause to search a vehicle. Johnson, 179 S.W.3d at 886.

Digested by Michael Stevens

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