And Another Low Bar: Tandem Driving Supports Reasonable Suspicion

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United States v. Belakhdhar, 924 F.3d 925 (6th Cir. 2019)

Officers arranged for a controlled buy of a large amount of heroin. An informant told officers the supplier would likely drive a particular car on the interstate to deliver the heroin. An officer observed Mohamed Belakhdhar driving in tandem with the dealer’s car, suspected of carrying the heroin, from Chicago to Detroit.

A traffic stop and drug detector dog sniff led to the discovery of two kilograms of heroin hidden in Belakhdhar’s trunk. Belakhdhar asked the court to suppress the evidence, arguing driving in tandem with another car was a lawful and innocent behavior that could not contribute to reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The trial court ruled “tandem driving with a vehicle suspected of drug activity, alone, is an insufficient basis for reasonable suspicion.”

The court stated: “Reasonable suspicion, after all, does not present a particularly high bar.”

The appellate court disagreed and reversed the suppression order. Though there may be innocent explanations for tandem driving, such as drafting to save fuel or following another driver who knows the way over the river and through the woods, the facts in this case tended toward drug trafficking. The prosecution presented evidence that a drug dealer operated one car and knew large-scale traffickers routinely use multiple cars to transport drugs.

The court stated: “Reasonable suspicion, after all, does not present a particularly high bar.” This was no happenstance traffic stop; officers were watching a car reasonably believed to be delivering heroin. The court held tandem driving with a vehicle suspected of drug activity, standing alone, supports reasonable suspicion to stop and investigate.

Ken Wallentine

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over three decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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