Criminal History and Warrant Checks as a part of the “Mission” of a Traffic Stop.
(1) For purposes of officers’ safety, police officers during a lawful detention may request a criminal history check and a check for outstanding warrants without illegally prolonging the detention. (2) Criminal history and warrant checks are permissible as part of the “mission” of an otherwise lawful detention. (3) Information obtained when a detention is illegally prolonged may be saved by the Doctrine of Inevitable Discovery.
In October, 2016, defendant Anthony Hylton, wearing a mask, dark clothing, sunglasses, and gloves, robbed a Citibank in Henderson, Nevada. Brandishing a black semi-automatic handgun with brown grips, he foolishly pulled back the side (apparently for effect), ejecting an unexpended round in the process. Jumping over a counter to the teller’s side, he—even more foolishly—shoots into the floor (again for effect, just in case no one was yet taking him seriously). Having thus obtained everyone’s attention, he ordered a bank teller to give him all the money in the drawers. Stealing almost $70,000, he affected his escape by driving away in a black midsize SUV that (according to witnesses) looked like a Ford Escape (appropriately named). Witnesses provided a very general physical description. Two months later (December, 2016), a passed-out defendant was found behind the wheel of a car (apparently not the Escape) at 6:13 a.m., stopped in the middle of one of Las Vegas’ busiest intersections. Upon contacting him, officers could smell the odor of marijuana coming from the car. Upon awakening the disoriented and confused defendant, it was noticed that pieces of pills of some sort were stuck to his sweatshirt. Asked to get out of his car, defendant complied. Asked for his license and registration, he told the officers that they were in the back seat. An officer entered the car to retrieve the license and registration. (See Note, below.) He could not find the documentation, but observed instead in plain sight a gun case with a semi-automatic pistol in it. A radio check run on the gun came back negative for having been stolen. A continued search for defendant’s license and registration resulted in the discovery of some crushed pills and a half empty bottle of alcohol. A field sobriety test (“FST”) was administered, the results of which were inconclusive. It was decided to request a drug recognition expert (i.e., “DRE”) to come to the scene, which is the standard practice when FSTs are inclusive. While waiting for the DRE, the search for defendant’s license and registration continued, still without success. By then, it was 6:41 a.m., some 28 minutes into the detention. Obtaining his name and date of birth orally, they used this information to perform a radio check on the status of his driver’s license, registration, and insurance. They also checked for any open warrants and his criminal history. This resulted in the discovery that defendant had a felony record. He was therefore arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The time of the arrest was 6:49 a.m., making the length of the detention some 36 minutes. The firearm was later determined to match the description of the pistol used in the October bank robbery; i.e., a black semi-automatic handgun with brown grips. Ballistics later matched the gun to the round defendant fired into the bank’s floor. However, without yet being charged with robbery, defendant was released on bail. Apparently running low on cash, and remembering what a big haul he’d made the first time, defendant returned to the same Citibank branch in January, 2017, and robbed it again. This time he used a silver revolver (the police having taken his semi-automatic pistol). Stealing some $18,000, defendant was again seen escaping in a Black Ford Escape. Investigators (not yet tying this robbery to the earlier one in October) found only three Ford Escapes registered in the area, one of which belonged to defendant’s girlfriend. She told investigators that defendant was the only one (other than herself) who was allowed to use her car. So it was back to jail for defendant. Charged in federal court with two counts of bank robbery, two counts of the use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence (i.e., the bank robberies), and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, defendant’s motion to suppress the firearm retrieved from his car in December was denied. After defendant pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, a jury convicted him of the other four charges. Defendant appealed.