Thursday, June 01, 2017

US v. Orozco, No. 15-10385 (6-1-17)(Korman w/Tashima and M. Smith).  This appeal is whether the stop of a tractor-trailer, driven by the defendant, was justified under the administrative search doctrine.  The administrative search doctrine allows stops and searches, initiated in furtherance of a valid administrative scheme, in the absence of reasonable suspicion or probable cause.  In this instance, the 9th holds that the stop of the truck was solely done to investigate criminal activity, which violates the doctrine. As such, the denial of the motion to suppress is reversed, the evidence is suppressed, even if the driver gave consent after the stop, and the counts of conviction vacated.

The Nevada state statute allows administrative searches and limited searches of commercial vehicles.  It is facially permissible because it serves a safety purpose.  It does not allow a stop and search solely as a pretext for criminal searches. A motive to pursue a criminal investigation, or even a dual motive, is allowed.  However, there must be an administrative motive--the police cannot, as they testified here--use the administrative scheme solely to make a stop for criminal activity. See Delaware v. Prouse, 440 US 648 (1979); US v. Delgado, 545 F.3d 1195 (9th Cir. 2008)(upholding Missouri scheme involving random stops of commercial suspicionless vehicles).

The stop in this case was prompted by a tipster.  The police spotted the truck and stopped it.  They went through the motions of an administrative stop, but issued no citations (despite numerous apparent violations).

The district court denied the motion to suppress because she found there was a dual motive in the stop.  The 9th agreed that a dual motive was permissible.  However, here, the objective evidence made clear that the only reason the truck was stopped was because of suspicion of criminal activity. As the 9th characterized it, "the objective evidence clearly demonstrates that, but for the officers' belief that Orozco might be carrying drugs, the stop never would have happened."

This case provides a useful overview of the administrative search doctrine, especially in regards to vehicles, roadblocks, and pretextual reasons.

Of note, for practice, was the 9th stating that it did not decide whether reasonable suspicion existed.  It did not because the government failed to address "reasonable suspicion" in its answering brief.

The decision is here:




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