On July 14, 2014, the Georgia Court of Appeals decided the Bodiford v. State [i], which serves as an excellent review of the law pertaining to canine searches during traffic stops and detentions during traffic stops. The relevant facts of Bodiford, taken directly from the case, are as follows:
The relevant facts in this case are undisputed and the record shows that while patrolling I-75 on the evening of October 30, 2012, Officer Jason Hart of the Henry County Police Department performed a traffic stop of a car being driven by Bodiford after Hart detected the car traveling 10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. Hart initiated the traffic stop at 6:40 p.m., and a video recording of that stop was introduced into evidence at the hearing on the motion to suppress.
Hart testified that when he asked Bodiford for his driver’s license, Bodiford appeared visibly nervous; his right hand was shaking, he was breathing heavily, and sweat was beginning to bead on his forehead. The officer therefore asked Bodiford to step out of his vehicle while Hart wrote him a courtesy warning. The video of the stop shows that Hart thereafter retrieved his citation book from his patrol car and then spent approximately two-and-one-half minutes writing Bodiford a warning ticket, conversing with Bodiford as he did so. The video shows that Hart explained the warning to Bodiford, and Bodiford appears to sign the citation. After he completed writing and explaining the warning, however, Hart did not give the ticket to Bodiford or return Bodiford’s license. Rather, at that point, approximately six-and-one-half minutes after the traffic stop had begun, Hart questioned Bodiford about the status of his driver’s license and told Bodiford the officer would need to run a check of the same. According to Hart, his standard practice was to refrain from running a license check until at or near the time he had completed writing the traffic citation.
The video of the traffic stop shows Hart standing between Bodiford’s car and his patrol car, using his shoulder-mounted radio to provide dispatch with Bodiford’s driver’s license number. After transmitting the license information to dispatch, Hart asked Bodiford whether he had any contraband in the car, such as drugs, guns, or excessive amounts of cash. When Bodiford responded negatively, Hart asked for permission to search the car. Bodiford questioned Hart as to whether he was required to consent to an automobile search and Hart explained that Bodiford had a constitutional right to refuse, but that if Bodiford refused consent, “what I’m gonna do is, I’m gonna get my dog out of the [patrol] car, run my dog around [your] car and see if he shows any positive odor response on the vehicle.” When Bodiford refused to give an unequivocal “yes” to Hart’s request for consent to search the car, the officer patted him down, instructed him to stand away from his car and next to Hart’s patrol car, and asked for and received permission to turn off Bodiford’s car.
After turning off Bodiford’s car, and approximately nine minutes into the traffic stop, Hart returned to his patrol car to retrieve his dog. Although Hart cannot be seen on camera at this point, dispatch can be heard very clearly on the radio attempting to contact Hart. Hart, however, did not respond to the dispatcher. At the hearing below, Hart testified that he heard dispatch attempting to reach him, but explained that he did not respond because he was “in [the] process of hooking my lead up to my dog and I didn’t want to take my hands off it in order to key up on the radio.” The officer acknowledged, however, that at the time he received the radio call, he had not yet removed his dog from the patrol car. After Hart failed to respond to the radio call, the dispatcher can be heard on the recording making a second attempt to reach the officer. Seven seconds later, as he was standing together with his dog next to Bodiford’s car, Hart responded to the radio call, telling the dispatcher, “I’m in a bad spot here.” Hart testified that his response resulted from the fact that radio service on the part of I-75 where the traffic stop was occurring was “very poor” and that “90 percent of the time” officers in that area would need to use the radio in their patrol car to speak with dispatch. Hart further explained that once dispatch was told he was in a bad spot for radio, the dispatcher would know she should make no further attempts to contact him; rather, the dispatcher would wait for Hart to contact her.
Having thus instructed dispatch not to initiate any further contact with him, Hart walked his dog around Bodiford’s car. The dog indicated that there was contraband in the car and Hart then searched the vehicle. During that search, the officer found a large quantity of cocaine located underneath a passenger-side seat. Based on this discovery, Hart arrested Bodiford.
[Ms.] Black was the Henry County dispatcher with whom Hart had contact during the incident in question. She testified that dispatch operators fulfill two general functions with respect to traffic stops. First, dispatchers create a computer-aided dispatch (“CAD”) report for every traffic stop conducted. Second, the operators log all relevant information into those CAD reports as the information is received. Such information would include the make, model, and tag number of the car being stopped and the license information of the driver. According to the CAD report generated in connection with the stop of Bodiford, Black sent Bodiford’s driver’s license information to the GCIC at 6:46:13 p. m., and the results of that check were transmitted back to her two seconds later, at 6:46:15 p. m. At 6:48:14 p. m., Bodiford logged that information into the CAD report, and she testified that as a matter of routine practice, her next step would be to communicate the results of the license check to the requesting officer. The record shows that Black’s first attempt to contact Hart occurred at 6:48:45 p.m., or approximately 30 seconds after Black logged the information received from GCIC regarding Bodiford’s license into the CAD report. [ii]
Bodiford filed a motion to suppress and argued that the officer unreasonably prolonged the traffic at the point that he used his canine to sniff the vehicle. The trial court denied the motion and Bodiford appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
The issue on appeal was whether the officer unreasonably detained Bodiford beyond the scope of the traffic stop in order to have his canine sniff Bodiford’s vehicle.
At the outset, the court stated that:
[T]he State bears the burden of proving that the search of the car was lawful, and to carry this burden, the State must show that it was lawful to detain [Bodiford] until the time the drug dog indicated the presence of drugs. Dominguez v. State, 310 Ga. App. 370, 372 (714 SE2d 25) (2011) (citation omitted). [iii]
The court then noted that that there are two different categories of cases where officers have been found to have unreasonably extended a traffic stop. Regarding the first category, the court stated:
The first category involves those cases where the officer allegedly extended the stop “beyond the conclusion of the investigation that warranted the detention in the first place,” i.e., whether the officer prolonged the stop after concluding his investigation of the traffic violation. Rodriguez v. State, ___ Ga. ___ (2) (b) (Case No. S13G1167, decided June 30, 2014) (citation omitted). In such cases, courts have “generally concluded” that even a “short prolongation” is “unreasonable unless . . . good cause has appeared in the meantime to justify a continuation of the detention to pursue a different investigation.” Id. [iv] [emphasis added]
Thus, this type of situation occurs when an officer, after returning all of the driver’s paperwork and indicating the driver is free to leave, then re-initiates a detention without sufficient reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
Regarding the second category of cases, the court stated:
In the second category of cases, the detention is not extended “beyond the conclusion of the investigation that originally warranted the detention, but it is claimed that the investigation took too long . . . . In these cases, the courts examine “whether the police diligently pursued a means of investigation that was likely to confirm or dispel their suspicions quickly, during which time it was necessary to detain the defendant. United States v. Sharpe, 470 U. S. 675, 686 (II) (B) (105 SCt 1568, 84 LE2d 605) (1985).” [v] [emphasis added]
In this type of situation, often the driver will claim that the officer asked numerous questions unrelated to the reason for the stop and those questions unreasonably delayed the traffic stop beyond the time reasonable time required to complete the stop. The court then noted that whether the case falls into category one or two, the key issue is whether the officer acted reasonably during the stop.
In Bodiford’s case, he argued on appeal that the officers unreasonably prolonged the stop by extending it after completing the traffic investigation. This would be similar to category one. Further, he alternatively argued that the officer unreasonably extended the length of the traffic stop by failing to diligently pursue the traffic stop when he refused to answer the dispatcher prior to conducting the canine sniff.
In analyzing the facts of the case, the court noted that it is reasonable for officers to conduct a driver’s license check of drivers during traffic stop. However, the court further noted that in allowing driver’s license checks, they assume that the delay is relatively brief. The court stated:
[T]he general rule is that an officer may run a check of the driver’s license of both the car’s driver and any passengers without unreasonably prolonging a traffic stop. St. Fleur, 296 Ga. App. at 852 (1). This rule, however, assumes that the time involved in running license checks will be relatively brief, and any undue delay in that process could render the length of the detention unreasonable. See Salmeron v. State, 280 Ga. 735, 736 (1) (632 SE2d 645) (2006) (“‘a seizure that is justified solely by the interest in issuing a warning ticket to the driver can become unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete that mission.’ Illinois v. Caballes,543 U. S. 405, 407 (125 SCt 834, 160 LEd2d 842) (2005)”). Thus, the law does not allow an officer unilaterally to extend the time reasonably required for a traffic stop by knowingly avoiding communication with dispatch after requesting a license check. See Rodriguez, ___ Ga. at ___ (2) (b) (whether police unreasonably prolonged a traffic stop depends upon “whether the police diligently pursued a means of investigation that was likely to confirm or dispel their suspicions quickly“) (citation and punctuation omitted); Salmeron, 280 Ga. at 736 (1). In this case, Hart unilaterally extended the time for the traffic stop by failing to respond to dispatch. [vi] [emphasis added]
The court applied the rules above to the facts of Bodiford’s case. They observed that the officer failed to answer the dispatcher on her first attempt to contact him. The officer explained that he was attaching his canine to the lead and did not want to let him go. However, the court noted that the canine was still in the patrol car at the time. Then, the officer is next observed on video standing next to Bodiford’s vehicle with the canine when the dispatcher again radioed him. The officer replied that he was in a bad spot for radio traffic. He later testified that that area of I-75 gets bad reception 90% of the time. However, neither he nor the dispatcher testified that, at that time, they were having any difficulty communicating. Further, the court observed from the video that the officer and dispatcher could be heard clearly communicating with each other. The court also observed that the officer did not point to any specific safety concerns that prevented him from using his in-car radio to contact the dispatcher when she first called him, noting that he had already conducted a frisk of Bodiford, and he was unarmed. Additionally, the court stated that just because the dispatcher could not testify whether she was contacting the officer to check his status (whether he was still okay) or whether she was contacting him to provide the driver’s license status, the objective facts of the case are that the officer requested a drivers license check and a short time later the dispatcher attempted to contact him. Thus, it was reasonable to believe the dispatcher was answering his request for the driver’s license check.
Based upon the application of the above facts to the legal principals in the case, the court held that the officer did unreasonably prolong the traffic stop beyond the investigation of the traffic offense. As such, the canine sniff of the car, and the alert was the product of an illegal detention.
The court also noted that the officer could not point to sufficient facts to indicated reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity to justify the extended detention. The officer explained that Bodiford was extremely nervous. However, the court stated “nervousness alone cannot provide reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.” [vii]
Therefore, the denial of the motion to suppress was reversed because the canine sniff and the drugs found as a result were the product of an unreasonable detention.
Note: Court holdings can vary significantly between jurisdictions. As such, it is advisable to seek the advice of a local prosecutor or legal adviser regarding questions on specific cases. This article is not intended to constitute legal advice on a specific case.
[i] A14A0683 (Ga. App. 2014)
[vii] Id. (quoting Bell v. State, 295 Ga. App. 607 (2009))