Investigation by the Numbers Supports Valid Search

United States v. Marin, 2021 WL 709561 (8th Cir. 2021)

A rural Iowa farmer called the sheriff to report a suspicious vehicle—a Ford pickup truck with Minnesota plates—on his property. The responding deputy, who was aware that the same farmer had recently reported a burglary in which guns and ammunition were stolen, neared the farm within 10 minutes of the call. As the deputy was just two miles from the farm, he saw a Ford pickup truck with Minnesota plates driving away from the farm on an otherwise deserted road.

The deputy turned around to follow the truck and the driver veered onto the wrong side of the road. The deputy initiated a traffic stop and asked the driver, Raul Marin, for an explanation of his activities. Marin said he was looking for a friend. Suspecting Marin was impaired, the deputy took Marin’s pulse and, finding it elevated, called for a certified Drug Recognition Expert to examine Marin. The deputy told Marin he was not under arrest and asked Marin to sit in the back of the patrol car.

The deputy asked Marin if he had anything illegal in the truck and Marin told him there was a loaded handgun in the backseat. An inventory led to the discovery of methamphetamine, brass knuckles, a large amount of cash and cell phones. A jury convicted Marin of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

This is a classic case of an officer taking an investigation one step at a time and articulating the reasons for his investigative actions.

Marin challenged the basis for the initial stop and claimed there was insufficient evidence to connect possession of the gun with drug trafficking. The appellate court held that the deputy had reasonable suspicion for the stop, based on several factors, including the call from the farmer, the fact that Marin was driving a truck matching the farmer’s description just a short distance and a few minutes after the report, his trespassing on the farm late at night, and the deputy’s knowledge of the earlier burglary where guns and ammunition were taken. The court also held that the stop was not impermissibly extended. The deputy “was justified in taking a reasonable amount of time to investigate both the traffic violation and the vehicle’s suspected involvement in the reported crime.”

In this case, the deputy started with reasonable suspicion to stop Marin. The deputy then added to the initial reason for the stop by detecting and articulating his concern that Marin might be under the influence of drugs. He called for a Drug Recognition Expert within a reasonable amount of time. And the gun and drug evidence were seized as the result of a proper inventory. As a result, the court upheld Marin’s convictions (also concluding there was sufficient evidence to connect Marin’s possession of the gun with his drug trafficking crime). This is a classic case of an officer taking an investigation one step at a time and articulating the reasons for his investigative actions.

This blog was featured in our Xiphos newsletter, a monthly legal-focused law enforcement newsletter authored by Ken Wallentine. Subscriptions are free for public safety officers, educators and public attorneys.

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 four 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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