William K. “Chip” Bradford participated in a Federal drug charge appeal that led to the dismissal of all charges. The client’s trial counsel had successfully argued a motion to suppress the evidence found when an Alabama State Trooper searched the client’s car after a routine traffic stop. After the Federal District Court Judge granted the motion to suppress all evidence, the U. S. Attorney appealed the Federal drug charge case to the U. S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Bradford filed a motion with the Federal court of appeals challenging the basis of the appeal by the U. S. Attorney’s office. The Eleventh Circuit granted our motion to dismiss the appeal. Afterward, the U. S. Attorney filed to reinstate the appeal on the drug charge. However, the court to appeals denied the Government’s motion to reinstate the appeal. As a result, the Federal drug charge was dismissed by the district court because the Government did not have any evidence to prosecute the client.
The motion to suppress the Federal drug charge was based on the U.S. Supreme Court case of Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609 (2015). In the Rodriguez case, a police officer pulled over Rodriguez after his vehicle veered onto the shoulder of the highway. The officer gave Rodriguez a written warning, then asked if he could walk a police dog around the vehicle. Rodriguez refused, and the officer instructed him to get out of the car, then walked the dog around the car. The dog alerted to the presence of a large bag of methamphetamine. Rodriguez’s motion to suppress was denied by the federal district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit based on the idea that the brief delay before employing the dog did not unreasonably prolong the otherwise lawful stop.
The U. S. Supreme Court disagreed, holding that where police activity after the completion of an otherwise lawful traffic stop exceeds the time reasonably required to handle the traffic stop the police have violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Supreme Court focused on the “mission of the stop,” which was to handle a traffic violation. When that mission is complete, the stop ends. Therefore, measurably prolonging the stop violates the 4th Amendment.
In this case, the state trooper continued to engage the client in conversation unrelated to the traffic stop even after the traffic stop was finished. At one point, the trooper asked if he could see the money the client had in his pocket, telling the client that he wanted to count the money. There was no purpose for such conversation or the counting of the money related to the issuing of a warning ticket to the client. The conversation and the request to count the money were things designed to keep the client talking so that the trooper could ultimately ask for permission to search the vehicle.