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Name: United States v. Orozco
Case #: 15-10385
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 06/01/2017
Summary

Pretextual stop of truck to search for drugs was unjustified under administrative search doctrine, despite facially valid inspection policy. Nevada highway patrol troopers received a tip that a red and white truck with Michigan plates “may possibly have controlled substances.” They located the truck, pulled it over to conduct an administrative inspection, and found drugs in the sleeper compartment during a consent search. Defendant moved to suppress the drug evidence. The district court denied the motion, finding the stop was justified under the administrative search doctrine. Defendant was convicted of federal drug offenses. He appealed. Held: Reversed and remanded. The administrative search doctrine permits stops and searches initiated in furtherance of a valid administrative scheme to be conducted in the absence of reasonable suspicion or probable cause. However, administrative searches that are a pretext for investigating information of suspected criminal activity without reasonable suspicion are unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The presence of a dual motive, or a criminal investigative motive by itself, does not render an administrative stop pretextual. Instead, “in order to prove that a stop is unreasonably pretextual, a defendant must show that the stop would not have occurred in the absence of an impermissible reason.” (United States v. Maestas (10th Cir. 1993) 2 F.3d 1485, 1489.) Although Nevada’s administrative scheme that permitted the search in this case was valid, the manner of the stop suggested it was wholly pretextual. After receiving the tip, the troopers drove to the highway looking for defendant’s truck and had to maneuver around another commercial truck in order to pull him over. Moreover, one of the troopers testified it was “common knowledge” police could use their administrative powers to make a stop when they suspected criminal activity. It was clear that the stop would not have been made at all but for the tip that the truck was “possibly” carrying drugs. [Editor’s Note: The court did not address whether the troopers had reasonable suspicion for the stop because it concluded the U.S. Attorney waived the argument by failing to address it in the answering brief.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2017/06/01/15-10385.pdf