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When do you establish reasonable suspicion during a drug bust? A Quinlan investigative stops quiz

The following is an excerpt from the Investigative Stops Quiz, the full version appears in the April edition of the Investigative Stops Bulletin. For information on how to subscribe to this and other Quinlan bulletins, please go to www.quinlan.com and follow the law enforcement link.

    Officer O, a veteran police officer with extensive training in the detection of drug transactions, is conducting surveillance in a parking lot located in a high-crime area known for drug activity when he sees Dealer D approach Buyer B and get into B's vehicle. O watches as D hands a baggie to B, who in turn hands D a wad of cash.

    D then gets out of B's vehicle and enters his own car. B drives away. Minutes later, Criminal C drives into the parking lot and parks beside D. D gets out of his car and enters C's vehicle. This time, O is unable to see what takes place in C's vehicle, but like before, D is in the vehicle for only a couple minutes before he gets out and walks back to his own car. When C begins to drive away, O pulls him over and calls for a drug-sniffing dog, which arrives 10 minutes later. The dog positively alerts to drugs in C's vehicle, and a subsequent search reveals a bag of cocaine.

    C asks the court to suppress the evidence. Will he succeed?

Probably not. D's initial encounter with B most likely established at least a reasonable suspicion that they had engaged in a drug transaction. Furthermore, the similarities between D's encounters with B and C should lead to a reasonable suspicion that C also bought drugs from D.

In addition to C's mere association with D, the encounter also involved the following factors:

  1. The encounter occurred in a high-crime area
  2. The encounter occurred in a parking lot
  3. The encounter lasted only a couple minutes
  4. The encounter mimicked D's previous meeting with C, which O had a reasonable suspicion to believe involved a drug transaction.

Based on those factors, as well as O's previous training and experience with detecting drug transactions, O probably had a reasonable suspicion to believe C had just bought drugs from D. If so, O had the authority to conduct the investigative stop.

    Officer O is conducting surveillance on Dealer D in a high-crime area when he sees D enter B's vehicle, exchange a baggie for a wad of cash, and then leave. Following the transaction, O follows D as D drives 15 miles away and parks outside of an apartment complex.

    As D is walking to the complex, he meets Criminal C and shakes hands with him. The two talk for a few minutes, after which time D enters the complex while C walks to his car. Though O did not see D exchange anything with C, he nevertheless stops C's car as C is driving away and calls in a drug-sniffing dog.

    The dog alerts to the presence of drugs, and a subsequent search reveals cocaine. Will the evidence be suppressed?

Probably. In this case, beyond C's association with D, there do not appear to be any objective factors which would support a reasonable belief that C was engaged in criminal activities. There is no evidence that D and C's encounter occurred in a high-crime area, and aside from D's presence at both encounters, there were no apparent similarities between the two encounters.

Under the circumstances, the court would probably conclude that the only reason O stopped C was because C was acquainted with D. This factor is insufficient to establish reasonable suspicion.

Disclaimer: This quiz is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The answers to these questions are based on federal law. State laws may be more restrictive of officer conduct. Whenever you are unclear about proper procedure, ask an attorney in your jurisdiction.

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