MA: Two detectives joining into a traffic stop didn’t make it unreasonable or extend it

The stop was for a traffic offense, and two detectives stopped to participate. Their questions about smelling marijuana didn’t unreasonably extend the stop. Commonwealth v. Buckley, 2018 Mass. LEXIS 87 (Feb. 14, 2018):

2. Scope of the stop. In addition to challenging the legality of the stop itself, the defendant argues that the Whitman police exceeded the permissible scope of the stop when the plainclothes detectives joined Nelson at the scene and asked the driver about the odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle. “In evaluating whether the police exceeded the permissible scope of a stop, the issue is one of proportion.” Commonwealth v. Sinforoso, 434 Mass. 320, 323, 749 N.E.2d 128 (2001). “The nature of the stop, i.e., for a traffic offense, defines the scope of the initial inquiry by a police officer.” Commonwealth v. Bartlett, 41 Mass. App. Ct. 468, 470, 671 N.E.2d 515 (1996). See Commonwealth v. Cordero, 477 Mass. 237, 241, 74 N.E.3d 1282 (2017) (“A routine traffic stop may not last longer than reasonably necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop” [quotations and citation omitted]). “Where an officer conducts an uneventful threshold inquiry giving rise to no further suspicion of criminal activity, he may not prolong the detention or expand the inquiry.” Feyenord, 445 Mass. at 78 n.5.

As discussed, the stop at issue was justified based on Nelson’s observation of the vehicle speeding. This defines the permissible scope of the officers’ inquiry. The defendant fails to cite any authority suggesting that it was impermissible for the plainclothes detectives to join Nelson at the location of the stop. The stop remained constitutional so long as the officers did not exceed its permissible scope. There is nothing in the record to indicate that the “tasks tied to the traffic infraction … [were already] complete[ ],” Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609, 1614, 191 L. Ed. 2d 492 (2015), by the time Bombardier and Campbell arrived, or that Nelson unnecessarily prolonged the stop to await the detectives’ arrival. See Cordero, 477 Mass. at 242 (“The police do not earn ‘bonus time’ to conduct additional investigations by an expeditious performance of the traffic-related investigation”). The motion judge found that the detectives arrived while “Nelson [was] standing at the driver’s side of the vehicle.” Nelson testified that, after stopping the vehicle, he explained to the driver that he had stopped her for speeding and requested her license and registration; she produced a registration certificate but was unable to produce a license. Nelson recalled that he had been speaking with the driver for “[a]pproximately a minute,” and had yet to confirm her name and date of birth, see id. at 242 (tasks during routine traffic stop reasonably include “confirmation of the identity of the driver”), when Bombardier and Campbell arrived and spoke to the driver about the smell of marijuana. At that point Nelson returned to his cruiser to confirm McGovern’s information. Contrast id. at 247 (continued detention of defendant unreasonable where “the investigation of the civil traffic violations” justifying stop “was complete”).

We also reject the defendant’s argument that Bombardier’s question to the driver about the smell of marijuana fell beyond the permissible scope of the stop. That argument is foreclosed by this court’s opinion in Commonwealth v. Cruz, 459 Mass. 459, 945 N.E.2d 899 (2011). …

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