“Triple I” Check Permissible as Part of Traffic Stop

by | December 28, 2023

United States v. Hunter, 2023 WL 8405894 (3rd Cir. 2023)

A trooper stopped Jamar Hunter for speeding, failing to signal a lane change and traveling over a solid white line. Once the trooper obtained identification from Hunter and his passenger, he returned to his car and performed a routine license (NCIC) check. Both Hunter and his passenger had valid driver’s licenses, and neither was the subject of an arrest warrant.

The trooper then conducted an additional check that extended the traffic stop, performing a computerized criminal history check known as a “Triple I” check. The Triple I check took only “a minute or two.” This check revealed both Hunter and his passenger had significant criminal histories, including firearm and drug trafficking convictions.

The trooper returned and ordered Hunter out of the car to perform a Terry frisk. The frisk produced a loaded Glock-45 semi-automatic handgun in Hunter’s waistband; the trooper immediately arrested Hunter. The entire traffic stop lasted less than eight minutes. Hunter was later indicted for possession of a firearm as a convicted felon.

The appellate court held that the “Triple I” check was an objectively reasonable safety precaution related to the mission of the traffic stop under Rodriguez.

Hunter asked the trial judge to suppress the gun evidence, claiming the Triple I check improperly extended the traffic stop beyond the permissible constitutional scope. The trial court agreed and granted Hunter’s motion to suppress, ruling the Triple I check was unrelated to the traffic stop mission and, without reasonable suspicion, prolonged the stop, therefore violating the Fourth Amendment under Rodriguez v. United States (575 U.S. 348 (2015)). (In Rodriguez, the Supreme Court held a stop may “last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the initial purpose of the stop. Authority for the seizure thus ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are—or reasonably should have been—completed.”) The government appealed.

The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision. The appellate court held that the criminal history check, which took just two minutes, was an objectively reasonable safety precaution related to the mission of the traffic stop under Rodriguez. The court of appeals found the check to be a “negligibly burdensome officer safety precaution that fell within the stop’s mission.”

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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