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Name: People v. Vera
Case #: E069367
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 11/05/2018

Trial court did not err in denying defendant’s motion to suppress drug evidence where a dog sniff that occurred while an officer was writing a citation did not unconstitutionally prolong defendant’s detention for a traffic stop. A police officer with a narcotics-certified dog stopped Vera because his car windows were illegally tinted. Because the officer could not see into Vera’s car, he ordered Vera out of the car. Vera gave the officer permission to retrieve his driver’s license and registration. During this time, a second officer arrived. The first officer performed a records check and did not find any warrants. He also examined a knife that he found during a pat-search of Vera and determined it was not an illegal switchblade. He then asked the second officer to write a citation for the window tint violation. While he was retrieving his citation book and his dog from his patrol car, the first officer repeatedly asked Vera for consent to search his car and Vera refused. Before the second officer finished writing the citation, the dog alerted on the trunk of the car and the interior dashboard. Drugs were found during a search of the car. Vera was charged with a drug offense and filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that that his traffic stop was unreasonably prolonged under Rodriguez v. United States (2015) __ U.S.__, 135 S.Ct. 1609. The motion to suppress evidence was denied. Vera pleaded no contest and appealed. Held: Affirmed. In Rodriguez, the U.S. Supreme Court held a seizure of a driver that is justified only by a police-observed traffic violation becomes unlawful when a suspicionless dog sniff prolongs the traffic stop beyond the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made. Applying Rodriguez’s reasoning to the facts of this case, the Court of Appeal concluded there was no reason to conclude that Vera’s traffic stop was unconstitutionally prolonged by the use of a dog to sniff his vehicle. The court noted that it did not necessarily end the inquiry that the dog alerted before the citation was issued. A defendant in this situation could still demonstrate that the dog alert came after the time at which the citation reasonably should have been issued had there been no dog sniff, but Vera did not make this showing.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: