Invistigative Stops Law Pop Quiz

From: Quinlan Law Enforcement, October 23, 2008.

Question: Commander Davis received a tip that Conlenzo-Huffman would be in Calvert, Texas that day driving a blue Buick Park Avenue with a missing hubcap, and that Conlenzo-Huffman would be in possession of a substantial amount of cocaine. That tip was provided by a confidential informant who had provided reliable tips to Commander Davis in the past. Because of the tip, Commander Davis went to Calvert and asked for and received the assistance of Calvert Police Chief Cheatham. Chief Cheatham spotted Conlenzo-Huffman as a passenger in a vehicle matching the one described by the informant. Although Conlenzo-Huffman owned the Buick, an acquaintance named Bowen was driving it. A third individual was in the back seat. Observing that neither Conlenzo-Huffman nor his passenger were wearing seatbelts, Chief Cheatham stopped the vehicle and asked the occupants to exit. Commander Davis then arrived on the scene. Although Conlenzo-Huffman complied with the direction to exit the car, Conlenzo-Huffman refused to step away from the vehicle, and insisted on remaining in the area between the front seat and the open passenger door. He was also verbally abusive to the officers. Additionally, Conlenzo-Huffman kept reaching into the vehicle for several items. Finally, both Conlenzo-Huffman and Bowen refused to give consent to search the vehicle. Bowen had a valid driver’s license, and Conlenzo-Huffman provided proof of automobile insurance. A computer check did not reveal any outstanding warrants as to any of the vehicle’s occupants. Chief Cheatham issued Bowen and Conlenzo-Huffman citations for failing to wear seatbelts. He next told Conlenzo-Huffman he was free to leave, but Conlenzo-Huffman chose to remain. Because the officers could not obtain consent to search the vehicle, they sought a narcotics dog to conduct a sniff test. The narcotics dog belonging to the Calvert Police Department was not certified and was being retrained, so the officers sought the use of a dog belonging to the City of Bryan, 35 miles away. That dog eventually arrived on the scene. Upon examining the vehicle, the dog signaled the presence of narcotics. All together, the stop lasted one hour and 20 minutes. A subsequent search of the vehicle yielded approximately 82.7 grams of cocaine. Was the long detention lawful?

Answer: First, Conlenzo-Huffman admitted that much of the delay in the stop was attributable to Conlenzo-Huffman, who refused to comply with officers’ orders to step away from the vehicle and was verbally abusive. Consequently, he conceded that the officers could not be faulted for the entire length of the investigation. Second, Commander Davis explained at trial that while he asked the Calvert Police Department for permission to use their narcotics dog, he was notified that the Calvert dog was not certified and that an officer with the Calvert Police was trying to retrain the dog and was not comfortable with that particular dog. Consequently, the officers sought the assistance of the Bryan Police Department, 35 miles away, which eventually lent the officers its narcotics dog. These facts suggested that the officers obtained a capable narcotics dog as quickly as possible. Thus, Conlenzo-Huffman had no evidence that the officers unreasonably delayed their investigation. After they issued Conlenzo-Huffman the citation, the officers told him he was free to leave. Thus, the stop subsequent to that point amounted to a seizure of his vehicle rather than of Conlenzo-Huffman himself. This suggested that the officers sought to use the least intrusive means in dispelling or confirming their suspicions.

Citation: U.S. v. Conlenzo-Huffman, 2008 WL 4218806 (5th Cir. 2008)

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