Catherine Cortez Masto, Attorney General, Carson City; Mark D. Torvinen, District Attorney, and Robert J. Lowe, Deputy District Attorney, Elko County, for Appellant.
Frederick B. Lee, Jr., Public Defender, and Roger H. Stewart, Deputy Public Defender, Elko County, for Respondent.
BEFORE THE COURT EN BANC.
A highway patrol officer saw respondent Jethro Lloyd run a red light and followed him into a shopping center parking lot to issue him a ticket. While the ticket was being processed, a drug detection dog was summoned. The dog alerted for the presence of drugs in Lloyd's car. This led to a warrantless search that uncovered illegal drugs. Lloyd was arrested and charged with trafficking, possession for sale, and possession of schedule I and II controlled substances.
Lloyd moved to suppress, arguing that the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 18 of the Nevada Constitution prohibited the warrantless search. The district court granted Lloyd's motion. It determined that the drug dog's alert provided probable cause to search Lloyd's car for contraband. But it concluded that, for a warrantless automobile search to pass muster under Nevada law, both probable cause and exigency, beyond that inherent in a car's ready mobility, must be shown. Since the State showed nothing in the way of exigent circumstances beyond the car's mobility, the district court invalidated the search and suppressed the drug evidence.
Consistent with federal constitutional law, we hold that exigency is not a separate requirement of the automobile exception to the constitutional warrant requirement. Thus, because the drug detection dog's alert gave the officers probable cause to search Lloyd's car, which was parked in a public place and readily mobile, we reverse.
The essential facts were established through officer testimony and videotape from the patrol car's camera. Trooper Richard T. Pickers of the Nevada Highway Patrol stopped respondent Jethro Lloyd in a shopping center parking lot in Elko, Nevada. It was a Sunday morning, and the courts were
closed. The trooper saw Lloyd make a right turn at a red light without coming to a complete stop. By the time Trooper Pickers activated his lights and caught up to him, Lloyd had parked and gotten out of his car to go into Starbucks.
Lloyd denied running a red light. Still, he cooperated with the trooper's request that he produce his driver's license, insurance, and registration. When Trooper Pickers called dispatch to report the traffic stop and confirm Lloyd's paperwork, he asked dispatch to send a drug detection dog and handler team. The K9 unit arrived a few minutes later, before Trooper Pickers finished processing the traffic violation. Nothing suggests that the dog sniff prolonged the traffic stop.
The dog alerted to the presence of drugs in Lloyd's car. Based on the dog's alert and without getting a warrant, Trooper Pickers proceeded to search the vehicle. On opening Lloyd's car door, Trooper Pickers remarked that he smelled an illegal substance. He arrested Lloyd, handcuffed him, and secured him in the back of the patrol vehicle.
The vehicle search yielded psilocybin mushrooms and seven pounds of marijuana. Trooper Pickers transported Lloyd to the police station, and the State charged him with several drug-related offenses. It is unclear what became of Lloyd's vehicle after the search.
A motion to suppress presents mixed questions of law and fact. State v. Beckman, 129 Nev. at __, 305 P.3d at 916. On appeal from an order granting a motion to suppress, " [t]his court reviews findings of fact for clear error, but the legal consequences of those facts involve questions of law that we review de novo." Id. A district court's legal conclusion regarding the constitutionality of a challenged search receives de novo review. See United States v. Navas, 597 F.3d 492, 496 (2d Cir.2010).
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that " [t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated," and that " no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause." Article I, Section 18 of the Nevada Constitution similarly provides, " [t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable seizures and searches shall not be violated; and no warrant shall issue but on probable cause...." Under these cognate provisions of our federal and state constitutions, warrantless searches " are per se unreasonable ... subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions." Ka ...