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The search of a car’s internal compartments during a 20-minute traffic stop was reasonable, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held April 13 ( United States v. Murillo-Salgado , 2017 BL 121079, 8th Cir., No. 16-1959, 4/13/17 ).
But the decision drew a strong dissent.
Police pulled over the vehicle in which defendant Eleuterio Murillo-Salgado was a passenger for speeding. While verifying the driver’s rental car agreement, the officer asked about the purpose of the trip.
The driver said it was to complete an electrical wiring job, but the officer was suspicious. He continued asking questions, then asked for permission to search the car. The driver consented.
The search revealed hidden packages of cocaine inside an air compressor tank in the truck.
Police sufficiently established probable cause for the search and arrest because the police officer had such an extensive background of narcotics trafficking training that he could quickly identify suspicious behavior justifying further investigation, Judge Roger L. Wollman wrote for the majority.
But Circuit Judge Jane Kelly disagreed. The line of questioning about the electrician job was not related to the original traffic stop and the officer only asked to extend the stop, she argued. And the search itself was unreasonable because the officer could not establish reasonable suspicion before conducting it, she said.
The officer “interspersed routine traffic-stop questions with investigatory questions that had nothing to do with the reason he pulled the truck over,” she wrote. “This ‘blended process’ measurably extended the stop.”
Circuit Judge William Jay Riley also sat on the panel. Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Edwards from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Kansas City, Mo., represented the government. Assistant Federal Public Defenders Daniel Goldberg and William Joseph Raymond from the Federal Public Defenders’ Office in Kansas City, Mo., represented Murillo-Salgado.
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