D.N.J.: Def’s criminal history alone wasn’t RS to extend the stop under Rodriguez

The officer had no reasonable suspicion to extend defendant’s traffic stop after stopping him for no headlights on and using a cell phone. Once defendant’s criminal record popped up, the inquiry got more intense and lengthy. Nothing about defendant’s behavior or words added a thing to the reasonable suspicion calculus. If anything, the longer the stop went, the more apparent there was no reasonable suspicion. United States v. Clark, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106153 (D. N.J. July 10, 2017):

Reviewing the evidence in the record in this case, it is clear that, given the totality of the circumstances, Officer Bradley did not possess reasonable suspicion to question Roberts on matters outside of the ordinary inquiries incident to a traffic stop, when he asked about Roberts’ past arrests at DCV 00:16:54. At the time such questioning began, Officer Bradley had already determined that Roberts had a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance. Officer Bradley had checked Roberts’ criminal history and determined that there were no outstanding warrants for Roberts’ arrest. Officer Bradley had been told by Roberts that the vehicle was registered to Roberts’ mother. DCV 00:11:05. The registration check Officer Bradley conducted returned a vehicle registration to a woman sharing Roberts’ surname, residing at the same address listed on Roberts’ driver’s license. See also Title/Lien Certification. The registration record was thus completely consistent with Roberts’ account that the car was registered to his mother, as it is common knowledge that parents and children frequently share the same surname, and that family members often reside at the same address. Additionally, Officer Bradley had already explained the traffic violations for which Roberts had been stopped, and Roberts had admitted to driving at night without his headlights activated. Moreover, the Government does not contend, and the recording does not support, that Roberts’ behavior to this point was in any way suspicious or inappropriate. Accordingly, upon returning to Roberts’ vehicle at DCV 00:16:54, the only task left to complete the traffic stop was for Officer Bradley to either write Roberts a ticket, or let him go without writing one. As it happened, the record, as acknowledged by the Government during oral argument, reflects that Roberts was never written a ticket for the traffic violations for which he was stopped. Given these circumstances at DCV 00:16:54, the officer could not have formed a reasonable suspicion justifying continued investigation into other criminal activity. Accordingly, the evidence seized after Officer Bradley lacked reasonable suspicion to extend the traffic stop must be suppressed as the fruit of an unconstitutional seizure. Lewis, 672 F.3d at 237. The Court therefore suppresses the evidence of the handgun recovered from Defendant in this case.

The Third Circuit has not yet interpreted the significance of Rodriguez in a reported decision. This Court’s holding is, however, consistent with the very limited body of post-Rodriguez persuasive precedent from the Third Circuit. For example, in United States v. Byrd, No. 16-1509, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 2406, 2017 WL 541405 (3d Cir. Feb. 10, 2017), an officer pulled over a vehicle for traffic violations and extended the duration of the stop to include a K-9 search for drug activity. When the search led to an arrest and drug charges, the driver challenged the extension of the stop under the Fourth Amendment. In the stop in Byrd, when the officer approached the vehicle and asked for the driver’s documents, the driver “appeared nervous and conspicuously avoided opening a center console even though [the driver] had difficulty locating the requested documents.” 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 2406, [WL] at * 1. Ultimately, the driver “produced an interim New York driver’s license that did not include a photo” as well as a rental agreement that did not list the driver as a renter or permitted driver. 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 2406, [WL] at *1. When the officer ran a check of the driver’s license, and a criminal background check, he discovered that the name on the license was an alias, used by the driver, who had an extensive criminal history of drug, weapon, and assault charges. 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 2406, [WL] at *1. The Third Circuit affirmed the district court, finding “[t]he . . . officer’s observation of Byrd’s nervous avoidance of the center console coupled with Byrd’s non-photographic identification, his use of an alias, and the absence of his name on the rental agreement gave rise to additional suspicion of other criminal activity.” 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 2406, [WL] at *3. In Byrd, therefore, the officer began developing reasonable suspicion from the moment of his first interaction with the driver — observing the driver’s suspicious behavior and his provision of non-photographic identification — and had completely developed it by the time he completed his ordinary checks incident to the traffic stop into the driver’s background — discovering the alias and criminal history, and finding that the driver was not an authorized driver of the vehicle under the rental agreement. The officer, therefore, had reasonable suspicion before requesting the additional investigation into criminal activity outside of the traffic stop, in that case a K-9 search for illegal drug activity. Here by contrast, the only factor that could have given rise to reasonable suspicion in Officer Bradley’s initial interaction with Roberts prior to DCV 00:16:54, was Roberts’ failure to provide a registration card. Roberts, however, explained that the car was registered to his mother and he simply could not locate the document. Officer Bradley then offered to, and in fact did, run the license plate of the vehicle to locate the registration, and found a document which confirmed Roberts’ story. Unlike Byrd, therefore, at the completion of the ordinary checks incident to the traffic stop in this case, Officer Bradley’s basis for reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity had dissipated, not coalesced.

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