C.D.Cal.: Strong air freshener isn’t RS to extend a stop

“The Domestic Highway Enforcement Team of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is a special criminal investigation team employed to patrol Los Angeles County highways in search of criminal activity carried on in vehicles traveling on those highways. The team’s purpose is not to enforce the traffic laws. Rather, the officers stop vehicles that have committed minor traffic offenses without the intention to issue traffic tickets, but to engage motorists in conversations in an attempt to detect potential criminal activity unrelated to the reason for the stop. Because the evidence of the crimes investigated are generally found inside the vehicle, to accomplish the mission the officer must endeavor to obtain access to the interior by consent or probable cause. The stop and subsequent questions are done to accomplish this mission.” The traffic stop did not produce reasonable suspicion to continue the stop. About all the officer had was strong air freshener, and the stop became unreasonable. United States v. Elias, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20325 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 8, 2018). As to the reasonable suspicion:

Finally, the Court considers the traffic violations (tinted windows, Elias’ speed of 71mph in a 65mph zone, and obstructed windshield) and the Mexican driver’s license. Halloran did not testify that the driver’s license was considered as part of his reasonable suspicion, nor did he relate how the traffic violations contributed to his suspicion that Elias was trafficking drugs. The Court can see no relation between these observations and drug smuggling, and neither Halloran nor the Government argue such a relation. The Court should only look to the “articulable factors that are truly relied on by a police officer” when determining the reasonableness of the conduct. U.S. v. Thomas, 863 F.2d 622, 627-28 (9th Cir. 1988). Moreover, the failure to articulate other reasons is especially significant in this case, as the purpose of the stop was to develop probable cause or gain consent to search the car.

The Court concludes that the only factor legitimately relied upon was the strong smell of air freshener which is insufficient for the reasons given.

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