VT: Traffic stop devolved into drug investigation without RS; delay was because officers intentionally didn’t complete the tasks of the stop

This traffic stop led to defendant being cited for driving on a suspended DL, but the officers were going to let him get someone to come and retrieve the keys from their office. The officer turned it into a drug investigation by asking about other persons and their involvement with drugs and seeking consent to search the vehicle while the stop dragged on. The incidents of the traffic stop were not completed because the officers chose not to. State v. Nagel, 2020 VT 31, 2020 Vt. LEXIS 30 (Mar. 20, 2020):

[*P14] Contrary to the State’s argument, the fact that the deputy had not yet completed the tasks associated with the suspended-license offense did not bring the drug investigation within the lawful limits of the initial stop. “Authority for the seizure … ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are — or reasonably should have been — completed.” Id. ¶ 16 (quotation omitted and emphasis added). Police officers are under an obligation to “diligently pursue[ ] a means of investigation that [is] likely to confirm or dispel their suspicions quickly.” Sharpe, 470 U.S. at 686. Certainly, “[a] court … should take care to consider whether the police are acting in a swiftly developing situation, and in such cases the court should not indulge in unrealistic second-guessing.” Id. But officers cannot delay completing a motor vehicle stop in order to launch “an unrelated criminal investigation.” Alexander, 201 Vt. 329, 2016 VT 19, ¶ 17 (quotation omitted). “ ‘Citizens do not expect that police officers handling a routine traffic violation will engage, in the absence of justification, in stalling tactics, obfuscation, strained conversation, or unjustified exit orders, to prolong the seizure in the hope that, sooner or later, the stop might yield up some evidence of an arrestable crime.’” Sprague, 175 Vt. 123, 2003 VT 20, ¶ 17 (quoting Commonwealth v. Gonsalves, 429 Mass. 658, 711 N.E.2d 108, 112 (Mass. 1999)).

[*P15] Moreover, the record shows that the officers here had failed to complete the tasks associated with defendant’s offense only because they had chosen not to complete them. The footage from the deputy’s body camera illustrates this. As the deputy walked to his car to fill out the paperwork for the suspended-license offense, he told the other officers, “I’m going to let him think that this is going to be a go and then I’m going to ask him to search his car.” The body camera footage shows that the deputy spent several minutes filling out forms and then, when he returned to defendant, he suggested the paperwork was still incomplete, saying: “Before I do all the paperwork, just wondering if you’d let me search your car.” It is clear that the officers delayed completing the traffic stop in order to pursue an unrelated criminal investigation without reasonable, articulable suspicion that defendant was engaged in the suspected crime. This was unlawful. See Alexander, 201 Vt. 329, 2016 VT 19, ¶ 16.

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