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United States v. Evans

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 20, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
JAMES EVANS, Defendant-Appellee, and SEPTEMBER MCCONNELL, Defendant

Argued: September 11, 2014.

Submitted, San Francisco, California: May 14, 2015.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. D.C. No. 3:13-cr-00079-LRH-WGC-1. Larry R. Hicks, District Judge, Presiding.

SUMMARY[*]

Criminal Law

The panel vacated the district court's order granting James Evans' motion to suppress evidence of illegal drugs and a firearm found in a search of his car following a traffic stop, and remanded.

Applying Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 191 L.Ed.2d 492 (2015), the panel held that, by conducting an ex-felon registration check and a dog sniff, both of which were unrelated to the traffic violation for which he stopped Evans, an officer prolonged the traffic stop beyond the time reasonably required to complete his traffic mission, and so violated the Fourth Amendment, unless there was independent reasonable suspicion justifying each prolongation. The panel remanded to the district court for consideration in the first instance of whether the officer's prolongation of the traffic stop was supported by independent reasonable suspicion.

Elizabeth O. White (argued), Appellate Chief and Assistant United States Attorney; Daniel G. Bogden, United States Attorney, Reno, Nevada, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Janice A. Hubbard, Reno, Nevada, for Defendant-Appellee James Evans.

Before: Stephen Reinhardt, Raymond C. Fisher, and Marsha S. Berzon, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 780

BERZON, Circuit Judge:

The United States appeals the district court's order granting James Evans' motion to suppress evidence of illegal drugs and a firearm found in a search of his car following a traffic stop. We vacated submission pending the Supreme Court's decision in Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 191 L.Ed.2d 492 (2015), and now hold that the officer's prolongation of the traffic stop to conduct

Page 781

both an ex-felon registration check and a " dog sniff" violated the Fourth Amendment unless the officer had independent reasonable suspicion to support the prolongations. Because the district court did not address whether the officer had such reasonable suspicion, we vacate and remand.

I.

A.

Over the course of 2012 and 2013, Detective Blaine Beard, a Washoe County Sheriff's Deputy assigned to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) task force in Reno, Nevada, received information from two jailhouse sources that Evans was distributing methamphetamine in the Reno-Sparks area.[1] Beard never " confirm[ed]" or " verif[ied]" this information, however, as, according to him, the task force didn't " have the time at that point to dedicate towards an investigation into Mr. Evans."

In the summer of 2013, Beard met with an informant, who had played a minor role in a different investigation Beard was conducting into drug activities in the area. Beard testified that the informant told him that he " had traveled to the Sacramento Valley on more than one occasion with Mr. Evans for the purpose of picking up a load of methamphetamine from a source of supply in that area," and that Evans was picking up five to ten pounds of methamphetamine every two to three weeks. According to the informant, Evans would stay at a Super 8 Motel a few miles from the supply source, acquire the " load," and return the following day to Nevada.

Based on this information, Beard obtained authorization from a state court judge to obtain " pings" showing the location of a cell phone Beard believed Evans was using for drug distribution activities. In the early evening of July 22, 2013, Beard received GPS ping data showing that the cell phone was leaving Nevada, traveling westbound. Later that night, the cell phone pinged from a parking lot of a Super 8 Motel in Sacramento. Beard requested that two officers with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office drive by the Super 8 Motel to verify that the car suspected to be Evans' was at that parking lot. At roughly 1:30 AM, the Sacramento County officers confirmed the suspected car was in the lot.

Beard subsequently contacted Deputy Brandon Zirkle, a deputy sheriff in the Washoe County Sheriff's Office whom Beard had known for " years." Zirkle was canine-certified and had his dog, Thor, with him that day. Thor was trained in the detection of controlled substances.

Beard supplied Zirkle with information about Evans' car, explaining that the DEA suspected Evans was traveling from California with narcotics and that Beard was receiving GPS location information from Evans' phone. Beard asked Zirkle to assist him by positioning his patrol car on the I-80 highway and pulling Evans' car over once it traveled past Zirkle. Beard specifically requested that Zirkle " develop [his] own probable cause to stop ...


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