COA: K-9 sniff did not prolong traffic stop

A defendant was unable to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that while the police were justified in pulling him over, they violated his constitutional rights by detaining him and conducting a dog sniff after the initial traffic stop had been completed.

Roger Thayer was stopped by Pittsboro police in February 2019 because the truck he was driving had no working taillights or license plate illumination. He did not have his driver’s license or any other form of identification.

Officer Nicholas Webber was able to confirm Thayer’s identify. However, because the officer believed Thayer was extremely nervous and behaving erratically, he also ran a criminal background check and discovered Thayer was someone with a potential for violence.

Webber requested backup assistance from Officer Kevin Hyde, the night shift K-9 officer. While waiting about 10 minutes for Hyde to arrive, Webber ran the license plate information and began manually entering Thayer’s identifying information into the traffic-stop report and ticket-issuance software.

After Hyde arrived, he walked his K-9 along the driver’s side of the truck to conduct a “free air sniff.” The dog gave an “active alert” when he got to the driver’s door. A search of the vehicle and Thayer recovered four methamphetamine pipes, a baggie with about 13.52 grams of methamphetamine, three scales, eight syringes, numerous small baggies and straws.

Thayer was found guilty of Level 4 felony possession of methamphetamine following a bench trial.

On appeal, Thayer argued the evidence was discovered only by an unjustifiably prolonged traffic stop and therefore should not have been admitted into evidence. He claimed the challenged evidence was recovered in violation of the protections against unreasonable searches and seizures as provided by the Fourth Amendment and Article 1 Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

The Court of Appeals affirmed Thayer’s conviction, finding the police did not conduct a K-9 sniff after all the other business of the traffic stop had been finished.

“In this case, we conclude that Office Webber had a reasonably high level of concern or suspicion that Thayer was engaged in criminal conduct at the time of the traffic stop,” Chief Judge Cale Bradford wrote for the panel. “The record reveals that Thayer exhibited extreme nervousness, made repeated erratic and furtive movements, and was determined to have a potential for violence. Likewise, the level of intrusion in the K-9 sniff, which, again, occurred before Office Webber had completed the process of issuing tickets for the underlying traffic infractions, was low.”

The case is Roger Thayer v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-2363.

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