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7th Circuit: Officer had reasonable suspicion to prolong traffic stop

June 1, 2017

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a northern Indiana man’s conviction of possession more than 15 doctored gift cards, finding the police officer who stopped the man had reasonable suspicion to prolong the traffic stop that led to the discovery of the fraudulent gift cards.

In United States of America v. Mohamed Fadiga, 16-3870, Mohamed Fadiga was convicted of possessing more than 15 unauthorized gift cards that had been fraudulently re-encoded. His offenses were discovered when a police officer stopped a rental car Fadiga was riding in for having an expired license plate and, upon asking Fadiga to retrieve his license, saw “oodles” of plastic cards in lieu of money in his wallet.

The officer was then given consent to search the car, which led to the discovery of a bag full of gift cards. A second officer then arrived with a card reader, which detected the cards had been tampered with.

Fadiga moved to suppress the evidence, holding the officer had violated his Fourth Amendment rights by extending the traffic stop by about 30 minutes to allow the card reader to arrive, basing his argument on the case of Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015). But the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana held the officer had reasonably suspected the car’s occupants were in possession of the doctored gift cards, with Judge Philp Simon denying Fadiga’s motion to reconsider.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the district court Thursday, with Judge Frank Easterbrook writing there were other suspicious details aside from the plethora of gift cards, such as the driver’s claimed ignorance of the rental car’s owner and the fact that a rental agreement Fadiga produced at the scene did not authorize himself or the driver to operate the car.

Rodriguez tells us that reasonable suspicion permits a delay for the arrival of investigative resources,” Easterbrook wrote. “… Whether or not they waited for a card reader, the police were entitled to detain Fadiga and (the driver) until their authority to use the car had been determined.”

But Fadiga further argued racial discrimination was part of his case, considering he is black, but none of the jurors were. Though the jurors were selected from Lake and Porter counties, which have populations that are about 20 percent black, Easterbrook said “Fadiga has not attempted to estimate the probability that it could occur by chance – nor has he provided data about voter registration or the age distribution of the counties’ population … .” At the time of Fadiga’s jury selection, the plan for summoning residents for jury duty consisted of a pool of only registered voters, not all residents with government-issued identification, as the system works today, the judge said.

“It is possible to imagine things going wrong, such as a batch of jury summonses being sent to a single town or precinct that is predominantly white, but there’s no evidence that this, or anything else, did go wrong,” Easterbrook wrote. “As no one is entitled to racial balance on any particular jury, the district court properly rejected Fadiga’s complaint about this pool.”

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