CA10 doesn’t defer to police: Travel plans were not implausible in context and did not support reasonable suspicion

Defendant’s speeding stop was valid, but the detention was unnecessarily long and without reasonable suspicion. The dog alert came too late after consent refused. The travel plans were not implausible at all in context and did not support reasonable suspicion. United States v. Lopez, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 3475 (10th Cir. Feb. 27, 2017):

The evidence he found, however, was inadequate. The government’s chief justification for expanding the traffic stop is Defendants’ allegedly implausible travel plans. But Adrienne’s fictionalized account held together rather well. Given the purpose of the trip—to rescue a sister from an abusive boyfriend—the travel plans made sense. Adrienne would want to act as quickly as possible to get to her sister and bring her to safety. A last-minute airline flight could [*10] be quite expensive, and driving might be a more flexible way to rescue her sister and some of her things. To travel through the night required recruiting a companion to share the driving. Trying to make the round-trip within the time limits of the rental agreement might well have been overly ambitious (or foolish, because they were traveling more than 20% too fast when stopped), but if they did not spend too much time in Kansas City (or Nebraska), it could be reasonable to rent only for two days rather than three. Although Krause testified at the suppression hearing that his suspicions were aroused because “[i]t’s not normal for somebody to rent a car for two days and travel halfway across the country and expect to be back,” Suppression Hr’g at 20-21, Adrienne gave an explanation for the rapid travel. Even the vagueness of the final destination—Nebraska or Kansas City—was understandable if the sister needed to move to protect herself from her boyfriend. Kansas City is about 100 miles from the Nebraska border, so the vagueness of the destination still had the rescuers going in the correct direction (plausibly assuming that any destination in Nebraska would be in the part of the state closest to Kansas City), and the rescuers would not need more precise directions until they were closer to Kansas City. Adrienne explained that she did not yet have the final destination because her cell phone had not been working, and Krause testified that cell service in the area of the stop could be unreliable.

The significance here is that the court actually objectively considered the implausibility of the story rather than just giving the officer’s finding of reasonable suspicion the benefit of the doubt. When one considers the immutable fact that the government carries the burden of proof, this is how all courts should do it, not just defer to the police.

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