Commonwealth v. Little (Pennsylvania 2020) 2020 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 3225

Traffic Stop; Prolonged Detention; Alert as Probable Cause; Reliability Foundation

Traffic stop for window tint. LE observed in the vehicle four air fresheners, one in each of the vents in the dash of the vehicle. Driver provided his license but had difficulty producing the registration and proof of insurance. Driver said the car belonged to his aunt. Driver instructed to get out of the vehicle, but he refused, continuing the look for documents (LE opined that driver was stalling and was avoiding eye contact). It took 3 requests for driver to comply. Driver consented to a Terry frisk. LE continued to question driver about his travels and driver became more evasive. LE observed that driver was driving a third party vehicle, air fresheners were in every vent, the dark tint of the windows, the fact that driver said he was travelling from New York to Roanoke (a high crime area and a destination city for drugs) on a drug corridor, and the lack of any luggage or clothing one would expect for an overnight business trip were all were consistent with drug trafficking. Due to driver’s demeanor, LE requested back up. In the meantime, LE discovered that driver had been previously charged with drug and gun crimes. LE asked if there was anything illegal in the vehicle, and when driver said no, asked if driver would consent to a search. Driver refused and became more defensive and argumentative. About 45 minutes into the stop, a PSD team arrived in response to the call for back up and performed a free air sniff around the vehicle. PSD alerted to the driver’s door. Driver was removed and LE performed a search, noting that there were signs that there were compartments concealed from view. PSD placed in vehicle and alerted on the rear floorboard. LE found a compartment, but did not have the appropriate tools to obtain access. Driver and vehicle were taken to police barracks where a scope was used to look inside the compartment. Inside was cocaine and a cutting agent stored with dryer sheets. Also found were car maintenance receipts signed by driver.

Driver filed a motion to suppress and alleged that LE gave handler had a treat to put in his pocket to excite PSD and obtain a fabricated alert, which was denied by LE. The handler testified on cross that PSD has a fantastic alert but he is not always perfect and can get overly excited. Handler was not asked about the treat situation. Driver did not contest the stop. The court held that LE had specific and articulable facts that raised a reasonable suspicion of additional criminal activity to extend the stop to investigate, including the PSD sniff. Driver also challenged the sniff, but the court held that once PSD alerted to the driver’s door, LE had probable cause to search the vehicle. The court gave short shrift to the treat theory.