People v. West, 2017 IL App (3d) 130802 (March). Episode 329 (Duration 10:59)
This obvious drug interdiction traffic stop was nonetheless 100% consensual.
12,204 grams of cannabis in 16 bundles wrapped in duct tape hidden in defendant’s vehicle doors are discovered by police during a traffic stop.
Defense counsel argued the stop was impermissibly prolonged by “drug interdiction” questions unrelated to the purpose of the stop, that the officer did not have reasonable, articulable suspicion to ask those questions, and that defendant’s consent to search his car was merely acquiescence to the show of authority.
Ultimately, the trial court denied defendant’s motion.
The court found that the traffic stop was not unreasonably prolonged; it ended when defendant was told he was free to leave, and the ensuing encounter was consensual, not coerced.
Interestingly, the office noticed defendant after the car ahead of him flew by him, obviously speeding. Hmmm?
Upon stopping the car the officer noticed defendant had an Arizon DL.
Then the officer asked numerous questions unrelated to the traffic stop.
Defendant said he was driving from Arizona to Flint, Michigan, to visit friends. He said he planned to stay until the end of the week and indicated that he did not know his friends’ address in Michigan.
Illegal narcotics suppliers sometimes hold back the precise drop-off location to prevent drivers from cooperating with police in the event they are stopped before delivering the drugs.
The defendant had a suitcase in the backseat, a mechanic’s shirt hanging inside the car, and a camera in the rear window.
The officer asked defendant to sit in his squad car with him while he checked his documents and wrote him a warning ticket.
The officer stated he found it odd that defendant said his business was not going well but he was taking a costly trip to visit friends.
Approximately 14 minutes after Johnson initiated the stop, he issued defendant a written warning, returned his documents, and told defendant he was “free to go.”
Defendant exited the squad car.
One Last Thing
Johnson exited the squad car in quick succession.
Thereafter, he voluntarily remained outside of his car and engaged the officer in conversation.
He told defendant to have a “nice trip,” they shook hands, and they remarked that it was nice meeting each other.
Defendant exited the squad car with his paperwork and began walking back to his car. Before defendant got back into his car, the officer asked defendant if he could talk with him further. Defendant agreed to do so. But before defendant gets into his car the the officer asks for permission to search.
Defendant says “yes.”
No Reasonable Suspicion
This is not a reasonable suspicion case.
Clearly, the officer did not have reasonable suspicion.
He ultimately decided he did not have reasonable, articulable suspicion sufficient to prolong the traffic stop and ended it. Armed with the knowledge that he was free to leave, defendant twice consented to the trooper’s request for permission to search the car, and the defendant said “Yes.”
Defendant presented no evidence at trial that the traffic stop was prolonged.
The officer’s testimony and the video footage of the traffic stop established the opposite. He did not cease working on the traffic stop while engaging defendant in conversation.
The defendant points to nothing in the record suggesting otherwise.
The Traffic Stop Ended
Even assuming, for sake of argument, the traffic stop was unreasonably prolonged by the officer’s questions, the defendant’s point is irrelevant.
The traffic stop ended before defendant consented to a search of his vehicle.
The State need only prove defendant’s consent to search was voluntary by a preponderance of the evidence. The officer concluded the traffic stop by returning documents to the defendant, along with a written warning, and telling him he was free to leave.
Generally, a valid traffic stop ends when the paperwork of the driver and any passengers has been returned to them and the purpose of the stop has been resolved.
There is no seizure if the motorist understands that he or she is free to leave and voluntarily prolongs the contact. You can find more traffic stop cases over on my search and seizure page.
The evidence at issue was discovered during a consensual encounter preceded by a traffic stop.
Defendant was unequivocally told he was free to leave.
He remained on the side of the road and eventually consented—twice—allowing Johnson to search his vehicle. An officer may convert a lawful traffic stop into a consensual encounter by returning the driver’s documentation and informing the driver that he or she is free to leave.
The encounter can become a seizure, however, if, inter alia, the Mendenhall factors are present.
In this case, none of the Mendenhall factors are present in the alleged seizure before or after the traffic stop. Defendant gave his consent, not once, but twice after explicitly told him he was free to leave.
This search was not unconstitutional.
The dissent said the more realistic and tenable conclusion is that any reasonable person, evaluating the totality of these circumstances, would have realized that the stop had not ended and would have concluded, despite the officer’s representations to the contrary, that he or she was not free to leave.
He said that the redundant and repeated questioning gave rise to an objectively reasonable belief that the stop had not ended and West was not, in fact, “free to go.”
Defendant merely submitted to the continuing show of authority and involuntarily remained at the scene to reiterate his prior answers to the officer’s same questions.