In United States v. Braddy, No. 19-12823 (Aug. 31, 2021) (Rosenbaum, Lagoa, Ed Carnes), the Court affirmed the denial a motion to suppress.
First, the Court held that the officer had reasonable suspicion make the traffic stop after observing bicycles obstructing the car’s Florida license plate. The defendant argued that Alabama traffic law did not apply to him as a non-resident Florida driver. The Court held that, regardless of whether the defendant’s interpretation of Alabama law was correct, the officer’s interpretation by the officer was objectively reasonable.
Second, the Court held that the officer did not unlawfully prolong the traffic stop. The officer’s questions about the driver’s travels plans and itinerary, as well as the address on his license and ownership of the vehicle, were ordinary inquiries related to the purpose of the stop. A dog sniff of the car also did not unlawfully prolong the stop because the sniff was conducted while the officer was still waiting for a warrant check to come back before issuing a warning.
Third, the drug-sniffing dogs were sufficiently reliable to provide probable cause to search the car. The district court did not clearly err by crediting the officers’ testimony about the dogs’ training and certification over the defense expert’s contrary testimony. The officers testified that the dogs’ positive alert, although “very quick” and not “final,” was consistent with their training, and the district court credited that testimony, which was not clearly erroneous.
Judge Rosenbaum concurred in part and dissented in part. In her view, the officers’ observations about the dog sniff were too subjective and closer to a hunch, since the purported alert was so quick and subtle (and not confirmed by her review of the video) that it could have easily been normal dog behavior. She would not defer to the officers’ subjective interpretations of dog behavior, which would effectively insulate their conduct from Fourth Amendment scrutiny.