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State v. Sosa

Court of Appeals of Utah

June 1, 2018

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Linda Irene Sosa, Appellant.

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Katie Bernards-Goodman No. 131907989

          Debra M. Nelson and Andrea J. Garland, Attorneys for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Marian Decker, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Kate A. Toomey authored this Opinion, in which Judges David N. Mortensen and Ryan M. Harris concurred.

          TOOMEY, JUDGE

         ¶1 Linda Irene Sosa entered a Sery plea[1] to two counts of possession of a controlled substance. On appeal, Sosa contends the district court erred in denying her motion to suppress because the police violated her Fourth Amendment rights by unreasonably extending a routine traffic stop to conduct a dog sniff. We affirm.

         ¶2 A police officer (Sergeant) initiated a traffic stop after witnessing a vehicle's driver make an improper right turn. Sergeant approached the vehicle and asked the driver for her identification. While speaking with the driver, Sergeant recognized the passenger, Sosa, from a prior arrest for a weapons offense and asked if she had any weapons on her. She responded that she did not. Three minutes into the traffic stop, Sergeant took the driver's information back to his patrol vehicle and ran a records check. At the same time, he requested a police dog unit to assist him.

         ¶3 A second officer (Officer) arrived with his police dog within five minutes of the request-just eight minutes after Sergeant initiated the stop. Sergeant was still running the records check when Officer arrived, and at that point, Sergeant asked Officer to run his dog around the vehicle to sniff for controlled substances. The dog alerted to the presence of a controlled substance during the exterior sniff and alerted again on two items within the vehicle during the interior sniff. Officer found what appeared to be controlled substances and drug paraphernalia inside Sosa's purse and a camera bag. During a search incident to arrest, Sosa informed a third officer that she had methamphetamine and "a dollar bill with powder cocaine" on her person. The substances field-tested positive for cocaine and methamphetamine, and eleven tablets were identified as hydrocodone.

         ¶4 The State charged Sosa with three counts of possession of a controlled substance and one count of use or possession of paraphernalia. She filed numerous motions to suppress the evidence obtained during the search, alleging violations of both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, section 14 of the Utah Constitution. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied all of Sosa's motions to suppress. It found that the dog sniff of the exterior of the vehicle "lasted only approximately 30 seconds, " and it concluded that this "did not result in any delay at all in [Sergeant's] preparation of the citation" and "did not extend the scope of the traffic stop."

         ¶5 Following the denial of her motions to suppress, and after this court denied her petition for interlocutory appeal, Sosa entered a Sery plea to two counts of third-degree felony possession of a controlled substance, reserving her right to appeal the denial of her motions to suppress. Sosa appeals.

         ¶6 "We review a denial of a motion to suppress as a mixed question of law and fact and will disturb the district court's factual findings only when they are clearly erroneous, but we afford no deference to the district court's application of law to the underlying factual findings." State v. Paredez, 2017 UT App 220, ¶ 11, 409 P.3d 125 (quotation simplified).

         ¶7 Sosa contends the district court erred in denying her motions to suppress because Sergeant violated her Fourth Amendment rights when he "extended a routine traffic stop in order to conduct a [controlled substance] dog sniff" without reasonable suspicion.[2] Specifically, she argues that Sergeant was distracted from completing the stop's "mission" when he called the police dog unit and then when he reiterated the request for a sniff upon the unit's arrival. We disagree.

         ¶8 The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens from "unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. "The 'touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness, ' which 'is measured in objective terms by examining the totality of the circumstances.'" State v. Baker, 2010 UT 18, ¶ 10, 229 P.3d 650 (quoting Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U.S. 33, 39 (1996)) (quotation simplified). Though warrants are required for most searches and seizures, there is an "automobile exception" that allows officers to "temporarily detain a vehicle and its occupants upon reasonable suspicion of criminal activity for the purpose of conducting a limited investigation of the suspicion." Id. ¶ 11 (quotation simplified).

         ¶9 "[T]o determine whether a traffic stop is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, " we apply a two-step test: (1) was the traffic stop lawful at its inception and (2) was the detention following the stop "reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that ...


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