United States v. Sanders (Indiana 2020) 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 183073

Traffic Stop; Alert as Probable Cause; Prolonged Detention

The drug task force received a tip from a member of the public that a vehicle known to the task force was leaving a drug house. Several hours later, LE came across the vehicle and stopped it for window tint and rolling through a stop sign. As LE notified dispatch of the stop, LE also requested a PSD team respond (they were only a few blocks away). LE obtained the two occupants’ information and determined that the passenger was a convicted cocaine dealer. While the information was being input by the first officer, the PSD team arrived and conducted a sniff of the vehicle. PSD alerted before the first officer was finished with his duties regarding the traffic stop. The vehicle was searched and a pharmacopeia of drugs as well as a handgun were found.

The appellate court found that the traffic stop was justified, even though the passenger said that the driver did not roll through the stop. The court clarified that LE was thorough in his memory and recollection of his observations and that the standard is whether the officer reasonably believed the traffic infraction occurred, not whether it actually did occur (that’s what courts are for). In any event, the tinted windows were enough to affect the traffic stop. In addition, the PSD alert gave LE probable cause to search the vehicle. There was no prolonged detention because the alert came while the first officer was still engaged in his duties regarding the traffic infraction.