Were you arrested for possessing a firearm, drugs or other contraband found by dog sniff during a routine traffic stop? If you so, you may have grounds to have all the evidence found by the State thrown out and your case dismissed. A recent case shows how that can occur.
In Flowers v. State, Timothy Flowers was a passenger in a vehicle pulled over by Officer Josh Carswell for failure to come to a complete stop at a red light before making a right turn. The stop occurred at 10:15 p.m. While Officer Carswell was collecting the information he needed to write Flowers a citation, the K-9 unit arrived. A dog from the unit subsequently alerted to the vehicle.
The dog sniff was completed within twelve minutes of the initial stop. During that time, while Officer Carswell was preparing Flowers’ traffic citation, Carswell learned Flowers was a convicted felon. A subsequent search of the vehicle based on the dog’s interest revealed a pistol and marijuana. Before he was read his Miranda rights, Flowers spontaneously uttered “all that shit in there is mine.” Flowers was then arrested and taken into custody.
After his arrest, Flowers moved to suppress the evidence seized during the traffic stop. Flowers argued that Officer Carswell unreasonably prolonged the stop to permit the dog sniff where he had no reasonable articulable suspicion that would allow him to prolong the stop. The trial court denied the motion.
In denying the motion, the court initially found the traffic stop was based on a valid traffic violation. The court further found the twelve minutes that passed between the initial stop and the dog sniff was not unreasonable because Officer Carswell was engaged in tasks necessary for writing the traffic citation. Flowers pleaded nolo contendere and the trial court sentenced him to three years in prison for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, carrying a concealed firearm, and possession of cannabis.
Flowers appealed his subsequent judgment and sentence. He entered a plea while reserving the right to appeal the order denying his motion to suppress. Flowers argued his motion to suppress should have been granted because the officer unreasonably prolonged the traffic stop to conduct a dog sniff of the vehicle. The appellate court disagreed.
The appellate court first noted a traffic stop may last no longer than necessary for an officer to address the traffic violation warranting the stop. And an officer may not prolong a traffic stop to conduct a dog sniff in the absence of a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Rather, a traffic stop may only continue for the time necessary for an officer to check drivers’ licenses, search for outstanding warrants, and inspect registrations and proof of insurance. In determining whether a traffic stop has been unreasonably delayed, the critical question is whether conducting the dog sniff prolonged the stop.
In Flowers’ case the record reflected the initial stop occurred at 10:15 p.m. and was based on a valid traffic violation. After speaking with both the driver and Flowers, Officer Carswell ran the license of the driver at 10:21 p.m. He then ran Flowers’ driver’s license at 10:23 p.m. Officer Carswell received the driver’s criminal history from dispatch at 10:23 p.m. He then received Flowers’ criminal history at 10:27 p.m. The traffic stop was still in progress when the dog sniff was conducted at 10:27 p.m. And Officer Carswell had not yet written the traffic citation. Because the initial traffic stop was not prolonged by the dog sniff, the Court concluded the search was not unlawful. As a result, Flowers’ motion to suppress was deemed to have been properly denied and his judgment and sentence were affirmed.
The takeaway from Flowers is officers cannot delay a routine traffic stop to conduct a dog sniff. If officers detained you to conduct a dog sniff beyond the time that would have been reasonably required to process your traffic stop, you may be able to have whatever evidence was discovered in the ensuing search of you and your vehicle suppressed. In that event, the State will not be able to use that evidence and it will have to drop your case.
If you or a loved one have been arrested for possessing firearms or contraband found as a result of a dog sniff during an otherwise routine traffic stop, you should consult with a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer knowledgeable about the law limiting dog sniffs during traffic stops. Doing so will give you the best chance of having your charges reduced, or even out right dropped due to a lack of usable evidence. Call me for a free case strategy session to discuss how I can best help you with your dog sniff case in Jacksonville, Fernandina Beach, Yulee, Macclenny, Green Cove Springs, Middleburg, St. Augustine or surrounding areas.