Prolonged Detentions and Franks Hearings
(1) Knowing that the registered owner of a vehicle has an outstanding arrest warrant is sufficient cause (absence of other evidence to the contrary) for a police officer to stop that vehicle and contact its occupants to check to see if the suspect is in the car. Once lawfully detained in a traffic stop context, an officer may legally continue the detention of a vehicle’s driver for as long as it reasonably takes to complete the “mission” of a traffic stop. The “mission” of a traffic stop includes checking the driver’s license (insuring that he can legally drive the car), determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof of insurance. (2) A defendant is entitled to a hearing on the truth of (or material omission in) a search warrant affidavit if he can make a “substantial preliminary showing” that the affidavit contains material falsehoods or omissions.
On March 30, 2018, Patrol Officer Jordan Chroniger of the Havre (Montana) Police Department was informed by a local drug task force that a “vehicle of interest” was presently in the parking lot of the High Land Park Zip Trip gas station. The vehicle was described to Officer Chroniger as a red GMC pickup truck. Officer Chroniger was also told that the vehicle was frequently driven by either defendant Shane Nault or a woman named Joei Ross; the latter being the registered owner. He was also told that Ross had an outstanding warrant for her arrest, stemming from a failure to appear. Upon entering the Zip Trip gas station parking lot, Officer Chroniger found the suspects’ truck with its engine running. A figure was visible in the truck, but the officer couldn’t make out who it was because of the tinted windows. As Officer Chroniger pulled up behind the truck, another police car pulled in from the other side, boxing it in between them. Upon approaching the driver’s side door, Officer Chroniger was able to visibly identify the defendant as the driver. The officer told defendant that the registered owner of the car (i.e., Joei Ross) had a warrant out for her arrest, and asked where she was. Defendant responded that she was at the “Emporium;” another gas station in town. At about 20 seconds into the contact, Officer Chroniger asked defendant for his license, registration and proof of insurance; a practice the officer later described in testimony to be “standard procedure” whenever he would contact someone in control of a motor vehicle. Telling the officer that he did not have a license, defendant spent the next two minutes looking for the truck’s registration and proof of insurance. As he did so, Officer Chroniger noticed that defendant was “fidgety,” “making kind of sporadic movements,” that “his pupils were constricted,” and that he was “sweating profusely” despite it being cold out. The officer recognized these as indications that defendant might be “under the influence of something.” At just over a minute into the contact, Officer Chroniger asked defendant whether he had been drinking, was nervous, or had consumed any illegal drugs. Despite defendant denying that he was under the influence of anything, Officer Chroniger initiated a DUI investigation. The officer later testified that he patted defendant down for officer safety reasons and discovered brass knuckles and a glass marijuana pipe on defendant’s person. The officer then administered a series of field sobriety tests, the results of which indicated signs of impairment. Officer Chroniger arrested defendant for DUI/drugs and physically took him into custody. After Officer Chroniger did all the dirty work, agents from the drug task force showed up at the scene and ran a drug-sniffing dog (“Nato”) around defendant’s truck. Upon Nato alerting on the driver’s side door, a search warrant was obtained. The warrant affidavit reflected all of the above, plus the fact that a “controlled buy” operation had been conducted six weeks earlier (on February 18) during which an informant had purchased methamphetamine from defendant out of the same truck. Upon executing the warrant, agents recovered a pistol along with more than 500 grams of methamphetamine. Charged in federal court with various drug and gun-possession related offenses, defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence recovered from the truck was denied. A motion to traverse the warrant was also denied. Defendant then pled guilty to a negotiated plea of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine (21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1)) and felon in possession of a firearm (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1)). Sentenced to concurrent terms of 15 years for the methamphetamine offense and 10 years for the firearm offense, defendant appealed.