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Date: 10-10-2021

Case Style:

United States of America v. JAMES BERNARD BRADDY

Case Number: 19-12823

Judge: Barbara Lagoa

Court: IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

Plaintiff's Attorney: United States Attorney’s Office

Defendant's Attorney:


Atlanta, Georgia - Criminal defense Lawyer Directory


Description:

Atlanta, Georgia - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant with possession with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine charges.



On September 27, 2018, Officer Austin Sullivan pulled over Braddy on
Interstate 65 (“I-65”) in Saraland, Alabama, after Officer Sullivan observed Braddy
react to the presence of his marked patrol vehicle and observed that Braddy’s
vehicle’s license tag was obscured by two bicycles. During the traffic stop, officers
discovered cocaine in Braddy’s vehicle following two canine sniffs. Braddy was
subsequently charged by a criminal complaint, and then a federal grand jury indicted
him for possession with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, in
violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute
more than five kilograms of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. Braddy
pleaded not guilty to both counts, and the case was set for trial.
On November 19, 2018, Braddy filed a motion to suppress all the evidence
seized by law enforcement from the traffic stop that led to his arrest. Braddy argued
that Officer Sullivan’s reason for pulling Braddy over—a violation of Ala. Code
§ 32-6-51, which requires motor vehicle operators to keep their license plates plainly
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visible—did not provide probable cause because the statute did not apply to Braddy
as a nonresident of Alabama. Braddy also argued that law enforcement lacked
reasonable suspicion to go beyond the initial traffic stop, which Braddy asserts
occurred when Officer Sullivan questioned Braddy regarding his travel plans,
itinerary, residency, and ownership of the vehicle. Braddy asserted that his behavior
before being pulled over was not suspicious and that his reaction to Officer
Sullivan’s presence, his nervousness in interacting with Officer Sullivan, and the
bicycles blocking his vehicle tag did not provide reasonable suspicion. Finally,
Braddy asserted that the dog sniffs did not provide the officers with probable cause
to search his car. In support of this argument, Braddy attached a declaration from
Andre Jimenez, who opined that the two dogs were being “over handled” by the
officers and did not exhibit “alert/indication behavior.”
In response, the government asserted that Officer Sullivan’s interpretation of
Alabama law was correct but that, even if Officer Sullivan was mistaken in his
interpretation of the Alabama statute, the interpretation was objectively reasonable.
The government also contended that the dog searches occurred during the time that
the appropriate investigation accompanying the traffic stop was still underway,
explaining that Braddy: (1) was stopped in a well-known corridor used for interstate
shipment of drugs; (2) admitted to not owning his vehicle; (3) immediately claimed
to be a brother of a law enforcement officer during questioning, whom Braddy called
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during the stop; and (4) became increasingly nervous despite being told he would
only be issued a warning citation. As such, the government asserted that Braddy’s
own conduct extended the time of the traffic stop and that, under the totality of the
circumstances, there was reasonable suspicion that criminal activity may be afoot.
Finally, the government contended that the dog searches established probable cause
for the warrantless search of the vehicle, noting that Braddy’s expert witness had not
opined the dogs were not trained or certified.
In December 2018, the district court held a two-day evidentiary hearing on
the motion to suppress, at which Officer Sullivan, Lieutenant Gregory Cully, and
Braddy’s expert witness, Jimenez, all testified and video evidence of the traffic stop
was played.
1
Officer Sullivan testified as to the following. While patrolling I-65,
Officer Sullivan observed Braddy, who was driving a black Ford Expedition in a
relaxed manner, immediately sit up, become rigid, and fixate his focus on the road
after Braddy saw the officer’s patrol unit. Officer Sullivan also observed that
Braddy’s license plate was obscured by two bicycles and could only discern that it
was a Florida tag. Officer Sullivan then initiated a traffic stop, explaining to Braddy
why he pulled him over and asking for his license, registration, and proof of
insurance. Officer Sullivan could tell Braddy was “extremely nervous,” as Braddy
1 Officer Taylor’s body camera video and Officer Sullivan’s police vehicle dash cam video
were both entered into evidence without objection.
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did not make eye contact and stated that his brother was a police officer. Officer
Sullivan had Braddy exit the vehicle and come to his patrol car because the
information on Braddy’s driver’s license was not correct, and he needed the correct
information to issue Braddy a warning citation. Braddy also indicated that he did
not own the vehicle he was driving.
As part of his routine records check in any traffic stop, Officer Sullivan
performs a computer check for active arrest warrants and information on the vehicle.
During this traffic stop, while Officer Sullivan went through his routine records
check, additional officers arrived, including Lieutenant Cully and Officer Dan
Taylor. Officer Sullivan asked Lieutenant Cully, a certified dog handler, to run his
drug detection dog around Braddy’s vehicle while he waited for the warrants check
on Braddy. While waiting for the warrant check, Officer Sullivan observed
Lieutenant Cully’s drug detection dog go into “odor response” while passing the
driver’s side door. Lieutenant Cully did not notice the response because he was
paying attention to the traffic along the interstate. Because Officer Sullivan had
previously trained with Lieutenant Cully, he was familiar with how Lieutenant
Cully’s dog would act when indicating a drug odor. Officer Sullivan exited his patrol
car to tell Lieutenant Cully, and Officer Taylor continued with the traffic citation.
Officer Sullivan ran his own drug detection dog around Braddy’s vehicle, and his
dog likewise indicated a drug odor coming from the driver’s side. Specifically,
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Officer Sullivan explained his dog gave a “canine alert” by leaning its body forward,
closing its mouth, and changing its breathing and body posture, with the dog’s tail
becoming erect. The dog, however, was unable to go into its trained “final
response,” as it was not able to directly pinpoint the odor.
Regarding Braddy’s behavior during the stop, Officer Sullivan heard
Braddy’s phone ring as he approached the vehicle, and Braddy engaged in multiple
other phone calls with his brother, the alleged police officer, despite being told
multiple times to hang up the phone. Officer Sullivan described Braddy’s behavior
as aggressive, evasive, and “deceptive” and believed the person on the phone was
“coaching him along.” Braddy also gave his exact location to the person he was
speaking to, which Officer Sullivan considered dangerous based on his experience
patrolling I-65. Although Officer Sullivan told Braddy early into the stop that he
was only going to give him a warning, Braddy continued to act nervous, failed to
make eye contact, and tried to distance himself from the officers. After Officer
Sullivan asked Braddy if all the items in the vehicle belonged to him, Braddy denied
ownership of two brown duffel bags, which he attributed to another driver of the
vehicle, and did not claim direct ownership of the bicycles.
On cross-examination, Officer Sullivan stated that reasonable suspicion of
criminal activity began when Braddy reacted to his patrol vehicle and immediately
changed his posture. He admitted that Braddy provided his driver’s license in the
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first four minutes and twenty-eight seconds of the stop, although the license did not
have the correct address. Braddy did not hand Officer Sullivan his registration and
insurance until thereafter because Braddy “had to dig around for them.” He
explained that he did not run Braddy’s information until after more than six minutes
into the stop because he was asking Braddy questions. His questions were prompted
by the fact that Braddy appeared extremely nervous, had his arms crossed, was not
making eye contact, and was stuttering badly. More than six minutes into the stop,
Officer Sullivan asked Braddy to sit in his car so that he could run Braddy’s
information into certain databases. Because it was “first thing in the morning,”
Officer Sullivan had to log in and get his computer “up and running.” Officer
Sullivan then began to input the information into several databases while also
continuing to question Braddy. While Braddy never gave him conflicting
information, Officer Sullivan believed, based on his training and experience, that
Braddy was acting in a deceptive manner and was hostile based on his evasive
answers. After twelve minutes into the stop, he continued entering Braddy’s
information into his computer. Officer Sullivan said that Braddy told him he was
“scared” and asked permission to call his brother. At that point, Officer Sullivan
later admitted, Braddy was not free to leave. Officer Sullivan then asked Braddy if
there was cocaine or marijuana in his car, which “escalated” the stop. At this point,
Officer Sullivan believed that he had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
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Braddy denied consent for the officers to search his vehicle, although the drug
detection dogs were already deployed. Braddy began talking on his phone and
refused to get off the phone despite Officer Sullivan asking him to do so several
times. Based on Braddy’s suspicious behavior, and his criminal history, which a
database search had turned up, and the fact that two dogs alerted to the presence of
narcotics in the vehicle, Officer Sullivan handcuffed Braddy. He testified that he
did so “for our safety and his safety.”
Officer Sullivan also testified to his training for handling drug detection dogs.
Officer Sullivan was assigned to handle a police dog. He stated that he and his drug
detection dog had a National Police Canine Association certification, that his dog, at
the time of purchase, was already trained and had a previous handler, and that the
dog’s alert at the presence of narcotics was “a change of breathing, a change of body
posture, and then a final response,” which was an “aggressive alert.” As to
Lieutenant Cully’s dog’s “response,” Officer Sullivan explained that the video
evidence showed the dog, which had not been told to search, changed its mouth and
body posture, stopped wagging and straightened its tail, turned its body to be
“squared up with the car,” and began lifting his paw up before Lieutenant Cully
tripped over the dog. Officer Sullivan explained that, in accordance with his
training, this behavior was a sufficient alert to give the officers the ability to search
the vehicle. Officer Sullivan also described his own dog’s alert on Braddy’s vehicle,
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explaining that the video showed the dog stop by the driver’s side, with its “body
bladed towards the car, front paws pushed forward, mouth closed,” but that the dog
was unable to pinpoint the source because of the wind. On redirect examination,
Officer Sullivan stated that he received criminal history on Braddy and that, when
questioned, Braddy did not “recall” having been arrested before.
The government then called Lieutenant Cully, who testified to the following.
Lieutenant Cully, who had served twenty-two years as a police officer and became
a canine officer in 2007, completed multiple trainings and certifications with his
drug detection dog. Lieutenant Cully reviewed the dash-cam video and determined
that Officer Sullivan was correct that his dog alerted to the presence of a drug odor.
Lieutenant Cully explained his dog’s behavior for alerting the presence of a drug
odor, which corresponded with Officer Sullivan’s description. He further explained
that he observed Officer Sullivan’s dog’s response, which he was familiar with
because they trained together all the time. Lieutenant Cully also thought that Braddy
acted “[e]xtremely nervous” during the traffic stop, as he had difficulty answering
basic questions and “the color drained out of his face” when Braddy was told the
officers were going to take the back seat out of his vehicle. On cross-examination,
Lieutenant Cully discussed his dog training and certification and admitted that he
had missed seeing his dog alert a few times. Lieutenant Cully also stated that he saw
his dog alert at Braddy’s passenger-side door but did not tell any of the officers at
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that time. Lieutenant Cully explained on re-direct that he did not mention his dog’s
positive response because he did not want to influence another handler—Officer
Sullivan—who was about to search the vehicle.
Braddy called Jimenez as an expert witness, who testified to the following.
Jimenez explained that he had worked with police dogs since 1984, served as a police
officer for twenty-one years, and currently owns a business that trains dogs for
detection work. Jimenez had testified as a qualified expert witness between fortyfive to fifty times. Jimenez reviewed the police reports, the certificates and training
records of Officer Sullivan and Lieutenant Cully, and the videos from Braddy’s
arrest to help form his opinion. Jimenez explained the process that he uses to train
dogs, his opinion on best practices to train a police dog, and the differences between
a passive and aggressive alert. Jimenez opined that the two officers made numerous
errors while they walked their dogs around Braddy’s vehicle, including
“overhandling” their dogs by jerking on their chains, distracting them by giving extra
commands, and confusing the dogs to do things not related to the “odor,” and that
better training needed to be conducted. Jimenez also opined that the dogs’ behaviors
of wagging their tails or closing their mouths was not a valid indicator for smelling
a narcotic order. On cross-examination, Jimenez admitted that he received payment
for the training he provides and for serving as an expert witness. He also
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acknowledged that various other courts had rejected his testimony in multiple other
cases.
In response to Jimenez’s testimony, the government again called Officer
Sullivan, who explained his certifications and reinforced that his dog’s alert comes
when the dog has a “change in breathing, change in body posture” and also a “final
response.” He stated that his dog had a change in breathing and body posture when
he ran his dog around Braddy’s car. Officer Sullivan also noted that hidden
compartments presented an issue given his dog’s training and that there was a
concealed compartment in Braddy’s vehicle containing the drugs.
On January 29, 2019, the district court denied the motion to suppress. The
district court first rejected Braddy’s argument that there was no probable cause for
the traffic stop because Alabama Code § 32-6-51 did not apply to him. The district
court determined that even if Alabama law did not prohibit a nonresident driver from
obscuring portions of his license plate, Officer Sullivan’s literal interpretation of the
statute was objectively reasonable and therefore Officer Sullivan had probable cause
to conduct the traffic stop.
Turning to Braddy’s argument that the police did not have reasonable
suspicion to prolong the traffic stop or to conduct a general criminal investigation,
the district court found that the officers’ questions about Braddy’s travel plans were
“ordinary inquires incident to a traffic stop.” The district court noted that Braddy
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“reportedly exhibited extreme nervousness” even after he was told he would only be
receiving a warning citation rather than a ticket. After addressing the evidence
presented at the suppression hearing, the district court found that “Officer Sullivan
had reasonable suspicion based on [Braddy’s] behavior and extreme nervousness,
[Braddy’s] apparent difficulty in explaining his travel plans and circumstances[,] and
the irregularities with [Braddy’s] driver’s license and vehicle.” Prior to the alerts,
the district court found that “Officer Sullivan stayed within the mission of the traffic
stop by addressing the traffic violation that warranted the stop and attending to
related safety concerns” and that “the stop lasted no longer than was necessary to
complete the mission until a reasonable suspicion arose” that justified further
investigation by the officers. The district court further found that the “officers did
not conduct unrelated inquiries aimed at investigating other crimes that added to the
stop until they had reasonable suspicion” based on Lieutenant Cully’s canine alert
on Braddy’s vehicle, which “was further substantiated when [Officer] Sullivan’s
canine [also] alerted.”
Finally, the district court rejected Braddy’s argument that the officers lacked
probable cause to search the vehicle. The district court explained that the officers
testified that the dogs were trained and certified and noted that Jimenez’s testimony
had previously been found not credible by four other courts. Thus, the district court
found that there was sufficient evidence showing that the drug detection dogs were
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reliable and credited the officers’ testimony that the dogs alerted to the odor of
narcotics in Braddy’s vehicle “in a way that was consistent with the officers’ and the
canines’ training and certification.” The district court therefore concluded that the
officers had probable cause to search the vehicle.
On February 1, 2019, Braddy filed a motion to waive his right to a jury trial,
explaining that he would admit guilt but sought to maintain his right to appeal the
order denying the suppression motion. The parties also submitted the following
stipulated facts: Officer Sullivan, while driving a marked police vehicle, observed
Braddy operating a vehicle on Interstate 65. Officer Sullivan observed Braddy move
from a relaxed driving posture to a more rigid posture as he passed Braddy’s vehicle.
Officer Sullivan observed two bicycles attached to the rear of Braddy’s vehicle,
which partially obscured the license plate. Officer Sullivan stopped the vehicle
based on a violation of Alabama law relating to the requirement for a plainly visible
license plate. During the stop, Officer Sullivan and other officers developed
information that resulted in the search of the vehicle, where they discovered
approximately sixty-two kilograms of cocaine and a bag containing approximately
$40,000 in cash.
After granting the motion to waive a jury trial, the district court held a bench
trial and found that there was sufficient evidence to convict Braddy beyond a
reasonable doubt on both counts. On the same day, the district court entered a
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written order finding Braddy guilty as charged in Count One and Count Two of the
Superseding Indictment. On July 10, 2019, the district court sentenced Braddy to
121 months’ imprisonment. This appeal ensued.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A district court’s denial of a motion to suppress involves mixed questions of
law and fact. See United States v. Smith, 459 F.3d 1276, 1290 (11th Cir. 2006). We
review the district court’s findings of fact for clear error and the district court’s
application of the law to those facts de novo. Id. We construe factual findings in
the light most favorable to the prevailing party. Id. We, however, “are not restricted
to the evidence presented at the suppression hearing, and instead consider the whole
record.” United States v. Jordan, 635 F.3d 1181, 1185 (11th Cir. 2011).
III. ANALYSIS
On appeal, Braddy asserts that the district court erred in denying his motion
to suppress. In support of this contention, he raises the following three arguments:
(1) that Officer Sullivan lacked probable cause to make the traffic stop because he
incorrectly applied Alabama law to a nonresident Florida driver and that the mistake
was not objectively reasonable; (2) that even if the stop was justified and legal,
Officer Sullivan illegally prolonged the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion to
do so; and (3) that the two police dogs that performed dog sniffs on the vehicle did
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not have a positive alert to justify the search of the vehicle. We address these
arguments in turn.
A. Whether the traffic stop of Braddy was lawful
The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and
seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV. A traffic stop for a suspected violation of law is
considered a seizure of the vehicle’s occupant and must be conducted in accordance
with the Fourth Amendment. See Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U.S. 54, 60 (2014).
To justify this type of seizure, however, “officers need only ‘reasonable suspicion’—
that is, ‘a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person
stopped’ of breaking the law.” Id. (quoting Navarette v. California, 572 U.S. 393,
396 (2014)). Indeed, “the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is
‘reasonableness.’” Id. (quoting Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373, 381 (2014)). As
the Supreme Court has explained, “[t]o be reasonable is not to be perfect, and so the
Fourth Amendment allows for some mistakes on the part of government officials,
giving them ‘fair leeway for enforcing the law in the community’s protection.’” Id.
at 60–61 (quoting Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 176 (1949)). A mistake
may be of either fact or law so long as that mistake is “objectively reasonable”; a
reviewing court does not look at “the subjective understanding of the particular
officer involved.” Id. at 66 (emphasis in original). The inquiry for objective
reasonableness “is not as forgiving as the one employed in the distinct context of
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deciding whether an officer is entitled to qualified immunity for a constitutional or
statutory violation,” meaning that “an officer can gain no Fourth Amendment
advantage through a sloppy study of the laws he is duty bound to enforce.” Id. at
67.
Braddy argues that Officer Sullivan lacked probable cause to conduct the
traffic stop because Alabama Code § 32-6-51 does not apply to Braddy as a
nonresident motorist and Officer Sullivan’s contrary interpretation of the statute was
not objectively reasonable. We disagree.
Alabama Code § 32-6-51 provides, in relevant part, that:
Every motor vehicle operator who operates a motor vehicle upon any
city street or other public highway of or in this state shall at all times
keep attached and plainly visible on the rear end of such motor vehicle
a license tag or license plate as prescribed and furnished by the
Department of Revenue at the time the owner or operator purchases his
license.
It is undisputed that the bicycles on the back of Braddy’s vehicle at least partially
obstructed the vehicle’s license plate, which Officer Sullivan was able to identify as
a Florida tag. Braddy, however, claims that this statute is inapplicable to him as a
nonresident based on Alabama Code § 40-12-262(a), which provides, in relevant
part:
The provisions of the foregoing sections relative to registration and
display of registration numbers shall not apply to a motor vehicle
owned by a nonresident of this state and not used for hire or used for
commercial purposes in this state for a period of 30 days from date of
entering the state; provided, that the owner thereof shall have complied
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with the provisions of the law of the foreign country, state, territory, or
federal district of his residence relative to the registration of motor
vehicles and the display of registration numbers thereon and shall
conspicuously display his registration number as required thereby . . . .
Braddy asserts that § 40-12-262 precludes all Alabama statutes governing the
placement of vehicle license plates and tags, such as § 32-6-51, from applying to
nonresident motorists. He further notes that, under Alabama law, license plate and
tag statutes are typically strictly construed against the State of Alabama. See, e.g.,
State v. Green, 371 So. 2d 929, 930 (Ala. Civ. App. 1979).
We need not determine whether Braddy’s interpretation of the relevant
Alabama statutes is correct because, even assuming § 32-6-51 does not apply to
nonresident motorists, we find Officer Sullivan’s contrary interpretation to be
objectively reasonable. Our decision in United States v. McCullough, 851 F.3d 1194
(11th Cir. 2017), is instructive on this issue. In that case, the defendant’s truck was
outfitted with a bracket that covered the invocation and state of issue of his Alabama
license plate. Id. at 1197. An officer pulled over the defendant on the belief that the
defendant was in violation of § 32-6-51, and the traffic stop escalated into a search
of the defendant’s vehicle that revealed the presence of marijuana and a handgun.
Id. at 1197–98. The defendant filed a motion to suppress that evidence, which the
district court denied. Id. at 1198. On appeal, the defendant argued that his traffic
stop was unlawful because, under Alabama Code § 40-12-242, only the
alphanumeric symbols of a license plate were required to be plainly visible. Id. at
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1201. We did not decide whether the defendant’s interpretation of the Alabama
Code was correct because, even if that interpretation was correct, the officer’s
contrary conclusion was objectively reasonable under Heien. Id. We explained that
the language of § 32-6-51 left “open the possibility that more than the alphanumeric
symbols must be plainly visible.” Id. We further noted that “reading both statutes
together . . . support[ed] the conclusion that the officer’s interpretation was
reasonable” and that “[t]he absence of any limit in section 32-6-51 suggests the
section applies to more than alphanumeric symbols.” Id.
Here, Officer Sullivan testified that he stopped Braddy because the bicycles
were obstructing the license plate on Braddy’s vehicle based on his interpretation of
Alabama law. Officer Sullivan’s interpretation of Alabama law was objectively
reasonable for several reasons. The plain language of § 32-6-51, which is the starting
point for questions of statutory interpretation, see Pinares v. United Techs. Corp.,
973 F.3d 1254, 1260 (11th Cir. 2020); Ex parte Brandon, 113 So. 3d 638, 641 (Ala.
2012), states that “every motor vehicle operator” must have a license plate or tag
“plainly visible” on his or her vehicle. Ala. Code § 32-6-51 (emphasis added).
Section 32-6-51 does not contain any language limiting its application to only
Alabama residents nor does the language of § 32-6-51 cross-reference § 40-12-262
or title 40 of the Alabama Code. Nor is it clear that § 40-12-262 applies to other
titles of the Alabama Code outside of title 40. Thus, the text of the two statutes
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“leaves open the possibility” that § 32-6-51 applies to nonresident motorists. See
McCullough, 851 F.3d at 1201.
Furthermore, § 40-12-262 requires a nonresident motorist to comply with the
provisions of the law of the state of his residence and to “conspicuously display his
registration number as required thereby.” Under Florida law, which is the state of
registration of Braddy’s vehicle, a vehicle’s license plate must be displayed in the
rear of the vehicle such that “all letters, numerals, printing, writing, the registration
decal, and the alphanumeric designation shall be . . . plainly visible and legible at all
times.” Fla. Stat. § 316.605(1). Thus, even if Officer Sullivan was mistaken that
§ 32-6-51 applied, Braddy was still in violation of § 40-12-262 by obstructing the
view of his Florida license plate in violation of § 316.605(1), Fla. Stat.
Because this case does not implicate an officer’s “sloppy study of the laws”
that the Supreme Court cautioned courts about in Heien, see 574 U.S. at 67, we hold
that any mistake of law by Officer Sullivan was objectively reasonable and we
further hold that the traffic stop by Officer Sullivan of Braddy’s vehicle was based
on probable cause and therefore lawful. We now turn to address Braddy’s second
argument—whether Officer Sullivan unlawfully prolonged the traffic stop that led
to the search of Braddy’s vehicle.
B. Whether law enforcement unlawfully prolonged the traffic stop
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“A seizure for a traffic violation justifies a police investigation of that
violation.” Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348, 354 (2015). The police,
however, do not have unfettered authority to detain a person indefinitely, and “a
police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was
made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.” Id. at 350;
accord United States v. Vargas, 848 F.3d 971, 973 (11th Cir. 2017). “[T]he tolerable
duration of police inquiries in the traffic-stop context is determined by the seizure’s
‘mission’—to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop and attend to
related safety concerns.” Rodriguez, 575 U.S. at 354 (citation omitted). “The scope
of the detention must be carefully tailored to its underlying justification” and may
“last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop.” Florida v.
Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 500 (1983) (plurality opinion). “Authority for the seizure thus
ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are—or reasonably should have been—
completed.” Rodriguez, 575 U.S. at 354.
As we have explained, “we measure the reasonableness of a stop’s duration
under the totality of the circumstances,” and “[r]igid time limitations and bright-line
rules are generally inappropriate.” United States v. Holt, 777 F.3d 1234, 1256 (11th
Cir. 2015) (alteration in original) (quoting United States v. Purcell, 236 F.3d 1274,
1279 (11th Cir. 2001)). In other words, to determine the reasonable duration of a
traffic stop, we look to whether the police diligently pursued the investigation.
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United States v. Sharpe, 470 U.S. 675, 686 (1985). In the context of a traffic stop,
the Supreme Court identified a number of tasks “[b]eyond determining whether to
issue a traffic ticket” that are “ordinary inquiries incident to [the traffic] stop.”
Rodriguez, 575 U.S. at 355 (second alteration in original) (quoting Illinois v.
Caballes, 543 U.S. 405, 408 (2005)). These inquiries typically include “checking
the driver’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the
driver, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof of insurance.” Id.
An officer “may conduct certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful
traffic stop” so long as the officer does “not do so in a way that prolongs the stop,
absent the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an
individual.” Id.; accord Caballes, 543 U.S. at 406–08; see also United States v.
Perkins, 348 F.3d 965, 970 (11th Cir. 2003) (“A traffic stop may be prolonged where
an officer is able to articulate a reasonable suspicion of other illegal activity beyond
the traffic offense.”). “While ‘reasonable suspicion’ is a less demanding standard
than probable cause and requires a showing considerably less than preponderance of
the evidence, the Fourth Amendment requires at least a minimal level of objective
justification” for making the stop. Perkins, 348 F.3d at 970 (quoting Illinois v.
Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 123 (2000)). In determining whether reasonable suspicion
is present, we “look at the ‘totality of the circumstances’ of each case to see whether
the detaining officer has a ‘particularized and objective basis’ for suspecting legal
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wrongdoing.” Id. (quoting United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002)). In
examining the totality of the circumstances, this Court gives “due weight to the
officer’s experience.” United States v. Briggman, 931 F.2d 705, 709 (11th Cir.
1991). However, “an ‘inchoate and unparticularized suspicion’ or ‘hunch’ of
criminal activity” does not satisfy the reasonable suspicion standard. Perkins, 348
F.3d at 970 (quoting Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 124).
Braddy contends that Officer Sullivan unlawfully prolonged the traffic stop
by engaging in nontraffic stop activities, including conducting probative questioning
about his travel plans and itinerary, his residency, and the ownership of his vehicle
as well as the dog sniffs. As to Braddy’s assertions that Officer Sullivan’s “probative
questioning” prolonged the stop, we conclude that that the district court did not err
in determining that Officer Sullivan’s questions were related to the purpose of the
traffic stop and did not unlawfully prolong the traffic stop. Generally, questions
related to an individual’s traffic plans or itinerary are ordinary inquires related to a
traffic stop. See United States v. Dion, 859 F.3d 114, 125 (1st Cir. 2017) (“[O]ur
case law allows an officer carrying out a routine traffic stop . . . to inquire into the
driver’s itinerary.”); United States v. Brigham, 382 F.3d 500, 508 (5th Cir. 2004) (en
banc) (“An officer may also ask about the purpose and itinerary of a driver’s trip
during the traffic stop. . . . [T]hese inquiries are within the scope of investigation
attendant to the traffic stop.”); United States v. Givan, 320 F.3d 452, 459 (3d Cir.
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23
2003) (“[Q]uestions relating to a driver’s travel plans ordinarily fall within the scope
of a traffic stop.”); United States v. Williams, 271 F.3d 1262, 1267 (10th Cir. 2001)
(“[W]e have repeatedly held (as have other circuits) that questions relating to a
driver’s travel plans ordinarily fall within the scope of a traffic stop.”). Officer
Sullivan’s questions about Braddy’s travel plans and itinerary were therefore
ordinary inquiries related to the traffic stop, especially given the fact that Braddy
was driving a vehicle on Alabama roads with an obstructed Florida license plate that
was not registered to him. Similarly, questions about the address on Braddy’s
driver’s license, which Officer Sullivan determined was incorrect, and questions
about the ownership of the vehicle Braddy was driving were also well within the
scope of the traffic stop. See Rodriguez, 575 U.S. at 355; Holt, 777 F.3d at 1256.
We turn next to Braddy’s assertion that the dog sniffs unlawfully prolonged
the traffic stop. In Rodriguez, the Supreme Court stated that the “critical question”
in whether a traffic stop is prolonged beyond the point that is unlawful “is not
whether the dog sniff occurs before or after the officer issues a ticket . . . but whether
conducting the sniff ‘prolongs’—i.e., adds time to—‘the stop.’” 575 U.S. at 357.
Here, the district court found that the traffic stop was not unlawfully prolonged by
the initial sniff of Lieutenant Cully’s dog. The uncontroverted testimony from the
suppression hearing established that the canine unit arrived, and the initial dog sniff
occurred when Officer Sullivan was engaged in conducting a routine records check
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24
during the traffic stop. Specifically, while Officer Sullivan was in his patrol car
waiting for a warrant check return on Braddy before finalizing the issuance of a
warning citation for the obstructed license plate, Lieutenant Cully arrived at the
scene with his dog and ran the dog around Braddy’s vehicle. As this Court held in
Holt, “the use of the canines to sniff the exterior of the vehicles during the course of
lawful traffic stops did not offend the Fourth Amendment” when the uncontroverted
testimony establishes that the canine units arrived while the officers were still
conducting routine records checks and preparing the traffic citations. 777 F.3d at
1257. Moreover, after Lieutenant Cully’s dog alerted to the odor of narcotics, the
officers had reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity at that point to prolong
the traffic stop. Prior to the sniff, no additional time was added to the traffic stop
other than necessary for conducting the routine records check necessary for the
issuance of and preparation of a traffic citation. We therefore conclude that the
district court did not err when it found that Officer Sullivan did not unlawfully
prolong the traffic stop.
C. Whether there was probable cause to search Braddy’s vehicle based on
the reliability of the drug detection dogs’ alerts
Finally, Braddy contends that the officers lacked probable cause to search his
vehicle because the officers’ drug detection dogs’ alerts were not sufficiently
reliable. A police officer has probable cause to conduct a search of a vehicle “when
‘the facts available to [him] would “warrant a [person] of reasonable caution in the
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25
belief”’ that contraband or evidence of a crime is present.” Florida v. Harris, 568
U.S. 237, 243 (2013) (alterations in original) (quoting Texas v. Brown, 460 U.S. 730,
742 (1983) (plurality opinion)). The test for determining probable cause cannot be
reduced to “precise definition or quantification,” id. (quoting Maryland v. Pringle,
540 U.S. 366, 371 (2003)), and all the Supreme Court requires is “the kind of ‘fair
probability’ on which ‘reasonable and prudent [people,] not legal technicians, act,’”
id. at 244 (alteration in original) (quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 231, 238
(1983)). In evaluating whether there is probable cause to conduct a search, courts
look to the totality of the circumstances. Id.
A drug detection dog’s alert can provide probable cause to conduct a search.
Id. at 246–48; United States v. Banks, 3 F.3d 399, 402 (11th Cir. 1993). The
Supreme Court has rejected the approach of a “strict evidentiary checklist” to assess
a drug-detection dog’s reliability. Harris, 568 U.S. at 244–45. Instead, the Court
has explained that “a probable-cause hearing focusing on a dog’s alert should
proceed much like any other,” i.e., “whether all the facts surrounding a dog’s alert,
viewed through the lens of common sense, would make a reasonably prudent person
think that a search would reveal contraband or evidence of a crime.” Id. at 247–48.
“[E]vidence of a dog’s satisfactory performance in a certification or training
program can itself provide sufficient reason to trust his alert.” Id. at 246. A
defendant, however, can challenge such evidence “by cross-examining the testifying
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26
officer or by introducing his own fact or expert witness[]” to contest the adequacy
of a certification or a training program or how the dog or handler performed in that
program. Id. at 247. Additionally, “circumstances surrounding a particular alert
may undermine the case for probable cause,” e.g., if the officer, consciously or not,
cued the dog or if the team was working under unfamiliar conditions. Id.
We hold that the officers’ two drug detection dogs were sufficiently reliable
to provide probable cause for the officers to search Braddy’s vehicle. Both Officer
Sullivan and Lieutenant Cully testified in detail about the training and certifications
that they and their drug detection dogs obtained. Officer Sullivan also explained
that he was familiar with the alert of Lieutenant Cully’s drug detection dog, as he
had previously trained with Lieutenant Cully. This record evidence provides
sufficient reason to trust the drug detection dogs’ alerts. See Harris, 568 U.S. at
246–47.
Braddy, however, argues that the district court should have credited the
opinions of his expert witness, Jimenez, who testified that the dogs did not perform
a trained alert indicating the presence of drug odors and that the officers
“overhandled” their dogs. He contends that, based on this testimony, the district
court should have found that the drug detection dogs were not sufficiently reliable
to give the officers probable cause to search the vehicle. This argument is without
merit. In the context of a motion to suppress, we review the district court’s findings
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27
of fact for clear error, “constru[ing] all facts in the light most favorable to the party
that prevailed in the district court and afford[ing] substantial deference to a
factfinder’s credibility determinations.” Holt, 777 F.3d at 1255. Thus, “[w]e accept
the factfinder’s choice of whom to believe ‘unless it is contrary to the laws of nature,
or is so inconsistent or improbable on its face that no reasonable factfinder could
accept it.’” Id. at 1256 (quoting United States v. Ramirez-Chilel, 289 F.3d 744, 749
(11th Cir. 2002)).
Reviewing the record, we conclude that the district court’s finding in crediting
the officers’ testimony over the testimony of Braddy’s expert was not clearly
erroneous. In crediting the officers’ testimony, the district court noted that the
officers’ version of events was consistent with the video evidence and the officers’
explanation of their training. The district court found that “the officers were in a
better position to observe and judge the actions of their canines both because they
were in close proximity at the scene and because of their history of extensive training
and familiarity with their canines.” Indeed, the officers specifically testified about
their drug detection dogs’ responses on Braddy’s vehicle. Officer Sullivan explained
that when he ran his dog by the vehicle, the dog “bladed his body towards the car,
closed his mouth, tail went erect, and [he] saw a change in breathing and change in
body posture, showing the presence of narcotics in the vehicle.” He described the
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28
dog’s behavior as “very quick” and explained that he had seen this behavior on
“many” occasions, which was consistent with the dog’s behavior during training.
Officer Sullivan further explained that his dog could not go into “final
response” because it could not pinpoint the odor’s source due to the wind conditions
at the scene, but that the dog’s changes in behavior were responses indicating the
presence of drugs. As to Lieutenant Cully’s dog, Officer Sullivan testified that he
witnessed the dog go into odor response, which he described as the dog’s mouth and
body posture changing, its tail becoming a little straight, its body turning “squared
up with the car,” and its paw beginning to lift. Lieutenant Cully also testified about
his drug detection dog’s behavior, explaining that he was trained to look for the
dog’s “change in body posture and a change in breathing” leading to the dog’s paw
scratch as a “final response.” Lieutenant Cully explained that he viewed the video
evidence of the traffic stop and observed his drug detection dog on video perform
all those behavioral changes up until the point of the dog beginning to raise his paw.
Our dissenting colleague contends that the officers lacked probable cause
because they relied on their subjective interpretations of the drug detections dogs’
“ambiguous and general” behavior to justify their search of Braddy’s vehicle and
that the described behavior is not captured by the video evidence. However, whether
the video evidence can or cannot confirm the dogs’ behavior that the officers
described is not dispositive to the issue. For example, in United States v. Parada,
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29
577 F.3d 1275, 1281 (10th Cir. 2009), the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s
finding that an officer’s drug detection dog alerted on the defendant’s vehicle, as the
defendant had not shown clear error. While acknowledging that “the quality of the
videotape [in evidence was] poor,” the Tenth Circuit noted that the officer had
testified as to his dog’s alert behavior and that his dog had alerted on the vehicle,
which the district court found credible. See id. Although the dissent asserts that the
officers were subjectively interpreting their dogs’ ambiguous and general behavior,
our review of the district court’s factual findings, including its credibility
determinations, as to whether the dogs alerted is for clear error, “accept[ing] the
factfinder’s choice of whom to believe ‘unless it is contrary to the laws of nature, or
is so inconsistent or improbable on its face that no reasonable factfinder could accept
it.’” See Holt, 777 F.3d at 1255–56 (quoting Ramirez-Chilel, 289 F.3d at 749 (11th
Cir. 2002). Indeed, it was the province of the district court to observe and assess the
officers’ testimonies on their drug detection dogs’ behaviors and to determine
whether to credit their testimonies. See Ramirez-Chilel, 289 F.3d at 749. Here, the
district court explained that “the officers were in better position to observe and judge
the actions of their canines both because they were in close proximity at the scene
and because of their history of extensive training and familiarity with their canines.”
As such, the district court found that the drug detection dogs were reliable and
credited the officers’ testimony that the dogs alerted to the odor of narcotics in
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30
Braddy’s vehicle “in a way that was consistent with the officers’ and the canines’
training and certification.” Having reviewed the record, we conclude that the district
court did not clearly err in its findings.
Braddy further argues that the drug detection dogs were not sufficiently
reliable to provide probable cause because they did not perform a “final” alert or
response on Braddy’s vehicle. We decline to adopt this rigid standard as there is no
“strict evidentiary checklist” for assessing whether a drug detection dog is
sufficiently reliable. Harris, 568 U.S. at 244–45 (rejecting the Florida Supreme
Court’s decision requiring an evidentiary checklist for proof of a canine’s results in
the field). Requiring a drug detection dog to give a final response to demonstrate its
reliability would be contrary to the Supreme Court’s explanation that determining
probable cause is “a more flexible, all-things-considered approach,” i.e., “a fluid
concept—turning on the assessment of probabilities in particular factual contexts—
not readily, or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules.” Id. at 244 (quoting
Gates, 462 U.S. at 232). Indeed, other circuits have similarly rejected a stricter rule
requiring a final response, indication, or alert for a drug dog to be sufficiently
reliable. See Parada, 577 F.3d at 1282 (“Thus, the general rule we have followed is
that a dog’s alert to the presence of contraband is sufficient to provide probable
cause. We decline to adopt the stricter rule urged by [the defendant], which would
require the dog to give a final indication before probable cause is established. . . .
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31
We hold that probable cause was satisfied by [the dog’s] alert to the odor of an illegal
substance in the vehicle and that it was not necessary for the dog to indicate the exact
source of that odor.”); United States v. Thomas, 726 F.3d 1086, 1098 (9th Cir. 2013)
(finding Parada’s rejection of the final alert rule to be “on the mark,” as “probable
cause is measured in reasonable expectations, not certainties,” and noting that Harris
“confirms the correctness of this view”). As the Supreme Court concluded in Harris,
“[i]f a bona fide organization has certified a dog after testing his reliability in a
controlled setting, a court can presume (subject to any conflicting evidence offered)
that the dog’s alert provides probable cause to search.” 568 U.S. at 246–47. We
therefore conclude that the district court did not err in finding that the drug detection
dogs’ alerts were sufficiently reliable to provide probable cause for the officers to
search Braddy’s vehicle and affirm as to this issue.

Outcome: For the reasons discussed, we affirm the district court’s denial of Braddy’s
motion to suppress.

AFFIRMED

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