Window Tint Stop by the Numbers Supports Seizure of 2 Kilos of Cocaine

by | March 30, 2022

United States v. Goodwill, 2022 WL 189807 (7th Cir. 2022)

This case is all about following the rules for a traffic stop and investigating diligently, all while conversing in a friendly manner (and hoping a dog is nearby!). Two detectives saw William Goodwill driving a car with windows tinted noticeably darker than allowed by state law. They followed him for about a minute, and when Goodwill exited for a rest stop, they followed. Before beginning the stop, a detective called out the stop details to dispatch. Dispatch notified other units, including a detector dog handler who started driving toward the scene with his dog.

At 1358, the detectives initiated the traffic stop. One detective approached Goodwill and requested his driver’s license and insurance. He then asked Goodwill to sit in the detective’s car while he processed the paperwork. Goodwill agreed. The detective performed a records check, which required entering the driver’s name, birth date and driver’s license number. As he was entering the information, the detective asked Goodwill questions about his car, the weather, his child, the length of his stay in the area, any plans for his time there and his driving history.

At 1402, the detective received confirmation that Goodwill’s information was accurate. One minute later, he began filling out the hard copy of the written warning with the date and time; the year, make and model of the car; Goodwill’s name, birth date and address; the traffic violation; and the location of the stop. While writing the warning, the detective continued chatting with Goodwill. He asked what Goodwill did for a living, how he enjoyed his job, what gift he had purchased for his child, how long his friend had been driving the car, how long he had known the owner, and whether he had taken any drugs or medications. The second detective then joined the conversation and asked Goodwill about the toys in his trunk. During this time, one of the detectives sent a message to the detector dog team to hurry.

The detector dog team arrived at 1407. Goodwill consented several times to an exterior sniff. The dog gave a positive final response to the odors of illegal drugs. The officers searched the car and found 2 kilos of cocaine. Goodwill asked the court to suppress the cocaine, claiming the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by unlawfully prolonging the traffic stop and conducting a search without his consent. The court denied the motion and Goodwill was convicted of possession of cocaine. He was sentenced to10 years.

An officer does not need a driver’s consent to conduct a dog sniff during a lawful traffic stop, if it does not prolong the stop

The court of appeals affirmed the denial of the suppression motion and Goodman’s conviction. In his appeal, Goodwill argued the detective could have completed the warning citation in less time. Once the detective received confirmation regarding Goodwill’s license and vehicle information at 1402, Goodwill claimed the detective could have written the ticket before the canine unit arrived five minutes later.

A traffic stop can last only long enough to complete the “mission” of the stop—that is, “to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop and attend to related safety concerns.” However, an officer’s mission during a traffic stop is not limited to determining whether to issue a ticket. The Supreme Court has declared that this mission “includes ordinary inquiries incident to the traffic stop” (Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348 (2015)). The Court recognized that “traffic stops are especially fraught with danger to police officers.” As part of a routine traffic stop, an officer may request a driver’s license and vehicle registration, conduct a computer check for warrants and issue a citation.

The appellate court observed the detective needed to check the driver’s license and vehicle information, which involved typing in the motorist’s name and date of birth or driver’s license number, plus the vehicle registration information, into a data terminal. Then the detective had to handwrite the warning citation, which included the date, time, vehicle information, driver information and location. The detective’s testimony at the suppression hearing and the video of the traffic stop indicated he worked expeditiously. Because he worked diligently to enter the necessary data and then issue the written warning, and the unrelated questions did not prolong the stop, the detective was free to engage in friendly conversation. An officer can ask “wholly unrelated” questions while processing a ticket.

The court also reiterated that an officer does not need a driver’s consent to conduct a dog sniff during a lawful traffic stop, if it does not prolong the stop. A canine sniff of the exterior of a vehicle may generally be conducted any time a vehicle is lawfully stopped and if the scope and duration of the detention is not extended by the sniff (Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405 (2005)).

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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