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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > May 2014 > Traffic Stops (Reasonable Duration): State of Ohio v. McCullough

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Traffic Stops (Reasonable Duration): State of Ohio v. McCullough

Question: Is it OK for you to hold a driver to wait for a canine search?
Quick Answer: Yes, you can conduct a canine search as long as the entire stop only lasts a “reasonable period of time” (about as long as it takes to write a ticket or run a computer search).

State v. McCullough, Twelfth Appellate District, Fayette County, April 21, 2014
Facts: Fayette County Sherriff’s Office Detective Larry McGarvey received word that a suspect would be returning to town with a load of recently purchased heroin. Acting on the tip, McGarvey set up a controlled buy with the suspect. The suspect arrived at the location of the buy in a vehicle driven by Andrea McCullough. The officers followed the pair and stopped the vehicle for going 2 miles over the speed limit. Once the car was stopped, officers placed McCullough and the suspect in separate cruisers and conducted a canine search of McCollough’s vehicle. Although the dog alerted on the car, a search turned up no drugs. In addition, the dog alerted to the two police cruisers in which McCullough and the suspect were being held. Two bags of heroin were discovered on McCullough’s person during processing at the county jail. McCollough argued that the officers had no right to detain her while the canine search took place. The court disagreed.
Importance: You cannot detain a driver for an unreasonably long period of time. Detaining a driver for the time necessary to issue a ticket or conduct a computer check on a driver’s license, registration, and plates is not unreasonable. During that time, you may also conduct a canine search. However, you should not make a driver sit and wait a long period of time while a canine unit travels to the scene.
Keep in Mind: Although you may detain a driver for a reasonable time following a traffic stop, you cannot search the car without probable cause. In this case, the alert by a trained narcotics dog was enough to create probable cause and allowed the officer to search inside the vehicle.
One More Note: Here is an example of when the court found a traffic stop was unreasonably long due to a canine sniff:
  • State of Ohio v. Ramos, Second District Court of Appeals, Clark County, Nov. 26, 2003: At approximately 5:45 a.m. Nov. 19, 2001, a trooper stopped a vehicle driven by Loretta Ramos for a marked-lane violation. The trooper had previously been alerted by an anonymous call that a vehicle matching Ramos’ was weaving within its lane. Ramos was traveling with two passengers: a woman in the front passenger seat and a man lying in the back seat. The trooper ran a check on Ramos and the passenger. According to the videotape, at 5:53 a.m. the trooper learned that Ramos’ driver’s license had expired. At 5:58 a.m., the dispatcher informed the trooper that Ramos had been charged with drug trafficking charge in September 2001. The trooper requested the canine unit. At 6:06 a.m., the trooper began to write the ticket for the marked lane violation, expired license, and a seatbelt violation. For approximately the next 17 minutes, the trooper questioned Ramos about the nature of her trip, the passengers, and her personal history. At 6:38 a.m., the canine unit arrived. At 6:42 a.m., nearly an hour after the stop began, the dog alerted near the right rear tire of the vehicle. After a search, the trooper found Ecstasy pills inside the pocket of a pair of sweat pants hanging in the back of the vehicle. The court determined the trooper did not handle the traffic stop and related investigation in a reasonable time. It found the trooper prolonged the traffic stop for the purpose of waiting for the canine unit to arrive. The videotape recorded the trooper telling Ramos at 6:16 a.m. that they should just wait for the canine unit after she said she could call her sister to pick her up. In this case, the evidence was suppressed because the stop went beyond the time reasonably necessary to complete the traffic-related investigation.
More on Traffic Stops
Obvious? No. Suspicious? Yes. You and your partner are on patrol when you see a man in a pickup parked in a parking lot. The truck is backed in far away from the entrance, and another car is pulled up next to the truck. As you watch, the drivers appear to exchange cash. You and your partner pull into the lot and approach the two men individually. You see loose cash in the cup holder and torn-open sandwich bags on the floor of the truck. The driver nervously tells you he has a concealed carry permit and offers three separate times to produce the weapon he keeps in the center console, reaching each time. After the third time, you ask the driver to exit the truck, and you open the center console to secure the weapon. Inside you find unlabeled bottles and baggies filled with pills. Was this a proper Terry stop? Yes, according to the Bly court. An officer may detain a suspect only if he has reasonable suspicion that the suspect is engaged in criminal activity and only until that suspicion is no longer reasonable. Although there was no obvious evidence that the driver in Bly was doing something illegal, the setting, placement of the vehicles, apparent exchange of money, loose cash, empty baggies, and the driver’s nervousness all supported the officer’s reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed. Since those facts continued throughout the encounter, the suspect was not held for an unreasonably long amount of time because reasonable suspicion was present. State of Ohio v. Bly, Tenth Appellate District, Franklin County, March 27, 2014
So Much for the Speeding Ticket. You stop a car for speeding and run the occupants’ IDs. Five minutes later, your dispatcher alerts you that the driver has a warrant. After returning to the car, you ask if there are any weapons in the car. All three men say, “No.” You ask the driver to exit the vehicle, and when he refuses, you secure his hands to remove him. As you do, the driver tells you he’s got a gun in his waistband. You secure the weapon and cuff the driver. About 25 minutes after the initial stop, the passenger tells you there is a loaded magazine in the center console. The magazine does not match the gun you took off the driver, so you order the other two men out of the car and search them for the weapon that goes with the magazine. The passengers are clean, but one of them tells you there’s a gun under the driver’s seat. It isn’t until you sort everything out that you charge the men and issue the speeding ticket. Did your traffic stop last too long? No, not once you found the driver’s gun. The court in Blanks held that although a routine traffic stop cannot last longer than reasonable (typically about 20 minutes), once the driver alerted the officer that he had a weapon, the stop was no longer routine. Therefore, a longer duration becomes reasonable. State of Ohio v. Blanks, Second Appellate District, Montgomery County, April 18, 2014