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Virginia Court Denies Appeal in Drug Case, Despite Defendant’s Argument Over Prolonged Traffic Stop

In a recent drug-related case coming out of a federal court, the defendant unsuccessfully appealed his guilty convictions. The defendant originally pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, but he argued that the evidence of drugs should have been suppressed by the lower court. According to the defendant, the officers that pulled him over conducted an unreasonably long traffic stop, thus infringing upon the defendant’s constitutional rights. The court disagreed with this argument and affirmed the original convictions.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, two police officers in Virginia pulled the defendant over while he was driving one evening after learning that the defendant’s vehicle had an expired registration tag. One officer approached the defendant while his partner looked into the vehicle’s license plate, discovering that it was fictitious.

After contacting police headquarters to confirm the license’s status, the first officer asked his partner to conduct his own inquiry on a laptop as to whether or not the license was expired. The officers continued by asking for the car’s registration, collecting the vehicle identification number, and gathering necessary information from the defendant. In the process, the officers learned that the defendant had a suspended license due to two prior convictions for driving while impaired.

A canine unit arrived a few minutes later and began circling the car. As a result, the officers found methamphetamine and firearms inside the vehicle. The officers arrested the defendant and arranged for the car to be towed.

The Decision

After being charged with possession of both the drugs and the firearms, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the incriminating evidence found during the search. According to the defendant, the officers unconstitutionally prolonged the stop to conduct the canine sniff. It was the defendant’s theory that the officers were stalling by asking him unnecessary questions over a span of fifteen minutes while they waited for the canine unit to arrive. In the process of stalling, the officers abandoned the original intent of the stop and infringed on the defendant’s right to be free from unnecessary searches and seizures. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress, and he promptly appealed the denial.

The higher court considering this appeal looked at the circumstances surrounding the stop and ultimately disagreed with the defendant. One factor that the court considered in its decision was that the officers were investigating several different offenses, thus it took them some time to gather the necessary information on each individual offense. The court thought it was reasonable that the officer took approximately fifteen minutes to conduct the stop, concluding that he was acting methodically and reasonably as he questioned the defendant.

Based on this conclusion, the court denied the defendant’s appeal. His convictions and sentences were thus affirmed.

Have You Been Charged with Drug Crimes in Virginia?

If you are facing Virginia drug charges, give us a call at Robinson Law, PLLC. We work with you to craft a defense strategy that takes your individualized needs into account, and we remain committed to making sure your voice is adequately heard. For a free consultation, call us at 888-259-9787.

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