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Collective knowledge doctrine applies to a traffic stop

Court rules that troopers had independent lawful bases to stop a defendant for a traffic violation and investigate drug trafficking based on collective knowledge doctrine

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United States v. Rederick, 2023 WL 3014781 (8th Cir. 2023)

An investigator was monitoring Larry Rederick’s cell phone location as part of an investigation into methamphetamine sales. After learning Rederick was driving to Nebraska to visit an individual known by police to be involved with drug dealing, the investigator called troopers, told them about his investigation and asked them to stop Rederick. He asked the troopers to try to establish an independent basis for the stop, but if not, to stop Rederick to investigate drug trafficking.

A trooper stopped Rederick for towing a trailer that did not have a light illuminating the rear license plate. A sedan was on the trailer. The trooper spent 16 minutes writing a warning ticket for the traffic violation. Within the first 12 minutes, he asked a detector dog team to come to the scene. The dog team arrived 22 minutes into the stop. Five minutes later, the dog gave a positive indication of the presence of a narcotic at both doors of the pickup and at the back of the sedan. A subsequent search revealed meth in the sedan’s trunk.

The trial court denied Rederick’s motion to suppress the evidence; a jury convicted Rederick for possession of methamphetamine. The court of appeals held the trooper had two independent, lawful bases on which to stop Rederick. First, there was probable cause to stop him for the traffic violation. Second, applying the collective knowledge doctrine, the troopers had reasonable suspicion to stop Rederick to investigate possible drug trafficking.

The collective knowledge doctrine considers the separate pieces of information held by multiple officers involved in an investigation: “The collective knowledge of law enforcement officers conducting an investigation is sufficient to provide reasonable suspicion, and the collective knowledge can be imputed to the individual officer who initiated the traffic stop when there is some communication between the officers.” It was not necessary for the troopers involved in the stop to know the details of the drug trafficking investigation. All they needed was a directive to stop Rederick that came from someone who had reasonable suspicion to believe Rederick was trafficking in illegal drugs.

Rederick argued the troopers illegally delayed the traffic stop to conduct a detector dog sniff, citing the rule of Rodriguez v. United States (575 U.S. 348 (2015)). However, the Rodriguez decision is all about delaying a traffic stop to investigate. In this case, the troopers had an independent basis to detain Rederick. The troopers had reasonable suspicion before stopping Rederick and the reasonable suspicion remained throughout the stop. Only 27 minutes passed from the stop until the dog’s indication: “This delay did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the troopers acted diligently to pursue the mission of the stop: to assist with the investigation of Rederick’s drug-related activity.”

Special note for detector dog handlers

Rederick relied on the testimony of Mary E. Cablk to argue the detector dog was unreliable. However, when directly asked whether the detector dog was reliable, Cablk quickly conceded, “I can’t tell you that he is or he isn’t.” (See United States v. Spikes (2021 WL 5014500 (D. Colo. 2021)) and United States v. Rederick (2021 WL 5547702 (D. So. Dakota 2021)).) As the trial court highlighted, “Dr. Cablk has never trained any drug detection K-9 teams herself…Dr. Cablk essentially found the records to be unavailing, in part because she did not know how to interpret them.” A trainer for the detection dog team testified that the agency used single-blind testing in certification. The handler produced training records showing positive, accurate field performance and certification. The court found no error in the assessment of the reliability of the detector dog because there were proper training records and certification done with single-blind testing.

Read more Ken Wallentine case reviews here.

Ken Wallentine is the chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former chief of law enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over four decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.