United States v. James Braddy (11th Cir. August 2021)

The Federal Docket

September 8, 2021

Fourth Amendment – An officer who mistakenly interpreted an Alabama law as applying to non-residents had an objectively reasonable interpretation of the law.

Fourth Amendment – Officers do not unlawfully prolong a traffic stop by asking a traveler about their travel plans or itinerary.

Fourth Amendment – A drug sniffing dog’s sudden change in behavior, even if otherwise subtle, can provide probable cause to search a vehicle if an officer’s interpretation of the dog’s behavior is sufficiently reliable.

James Braddy appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained from a traffic stop. Braddy had argued that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop, unlawfully prolonged the stop, and lacked probable cause to search his car.

Braddy had been pulled over in Alabama based on the officer’s mistaken belief that a particular traffic law applied to Braddy, who was a non-resident of the state. While running a records-check, other officers arrived with a drug dog, and the officer running the check noticed the dog “go into ‘odor response'” near Braddy’s car. Another dog “indicated a drug odor” coming from Braddy’s car. The officer described these behaviors as the dog “leaning its body forward, closing its mouth, and changing its breathing and body posture, with the dog’s tail becoming erect.” Notably, however, the dog was not able to go into its “final response” to pinpoint the odor. The officer also testified at the hearing that Braddy had been behaving nervously, though he acknowledged that Braddy had been complying with his directions and “never gave him conflicting information.” Nonetheless, over fifteen minutes into the stop, after finding that Braddy had a criminal history and based on his “suspicious behavior,” Braddy was placed in cuffs and his car was searched.

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit rejected all of Braddy’s arguments. The Court held that the officer’s mistaken understanding of the law was objectively reasonable. Moreover, the officers did not unlawfully prolong the stop, as asking about a traveler’s plans and itinerary are allowed, and the behavior of the dogs provided reasonable suspicion to extend the stop. Finally, the Court concluded there was probable cause to search the vehicle based on the reliability of the drug detection dogs’ “alerts.”

Judge Rosenbaum dissented with respect to the panel’s holding that the officer’s observation of his drug-sniffing dog’s change in behavior was sufficiently reliable to provide probable cause to search Braddy’s vehicle. Rather, the alleged change in behavior was general to all dogs, and Judge Rosenbaum would have held that the officer’s belief was based on an “inarticulate hunch” that cannot serve as a basis for probable cause.

Appeal from the Southern District of Alabama
Opinion by Lagoa, joined by E. Carnes
Dissent by Rosenbaum

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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