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Court Throws the Book at Arthur Anderson for Ongoing Violation

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

Full disclosure: Arthur Anderson in today's Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals case is not the former accounting giant. Instead, this Arthur Anderson is a Michigan drug runner who appealed the dismissal of a motion to suppress a car search that yielded heroin.

Police stopped Arthur Anderson approximately four hours after they discovered that he was violating state license-plate regulations. Because they suspected he was involved in a drug operation, they used the interim time for surveillance. The Sixth Circuit validated the search because Anderson was engaged in an ongoing violation

When the Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team (KVET), a Michigan drug-enforcement organization, initiated a surveillance operation to gather information about Anderson's drug-running activities early one morning in June 2009, officers noticed that the Lincoln Town Car bearing Anderson's known license plate was a newer, slightly-lighter colored model.

Officers had probable cause to believe that Anderson had the incorrect license plate on his car in violation of Michigan law. Rather than confront Anderson at that time, however, the officers decided to continue their surveillance, reserving the license-plate violation as the basis for a later stop.

When police finally made the stop, Anderson consented to a limited search of his trunk. The trunk search revealed nothing, but an officer found two bundles of currency in Anderson's pockets. A few minutes later, a narcotics dog arrived at the scene. The dog alerted to narcotics, and the ensuing vehicle search unveiled a package of heroin in an armrest inside the car.

Anderson was charged with conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine, and with possession with intent to distribute heroin. He filed a motion to suppress the search based on the four-hour delay between the officers' discovery of probable cause for the license-plate violation and the time at which the traffic stop was initiated.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the search.

Sixth Circuit jurisprudence supports the view that a stop for an ongoing violation is not unreasonable solely because of a relatively short delay between the point at which law enforcement takes note of the violation and the point at which officers initiate the stop. In 2004, the circuit even upheld a traffic stop for driving without a valid license when three weeks had passed since the officer discovered the violation.

If you are relying upon a temporal delay between police realization of probable cause and an actual stop to support your client's motion to suppress in the Sixth Circuit, consider an alternate defense or appellate strategy.

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