Pubdate: Fri, 24 Oct 2003
Source: Decatur Daily (AL)
Copyright: 2003 The Decatur Daily
Author: Eric Fleischauer


Police officers do not have authority to search a vehicle they have
stopped for a traffic violation merely because the occupants are
nervous, according to a decision that the 11th U.S. Circuit Court
released Wednesday.

An Alabama state trooper stopped a car when he saw it veer over the
white fault line on an interstate and travel briefly on the shoulder.
He asked questions intended to determine whether the driver was too
sleepy to drive or intoxicated and then had the driver, Jessie Perkins
Jr., sit in the squad car while he prepared a warning ticket.

The officer later testified Perkins seemed extremely nervous, breathed
rapidly, was evasive and repeated all of the officer's questions
before answering them. His answers to questions regarding his
destination were somewhat inconsistent with those given by the car's

Suspicious, the officer asked Perkins and his passenger numerous
questions about whether they had drugs in the car. They denied having
drugs several times but, when the officer called for a canine unit to
sniff for drugs, Perkins revealed he had narcotics in the car's
console. Noting that innocent people are frequently nervous when
confronted by a law enforcement officer - a phenomenon Judge Rosemary
Barkett said is shared by lawyers presenting cases to appellate judges
- - the court said more is necessary to change a traffic stop into a
drug search.

The court also reiterated holdings on how long a traffic stop can
appropriately take. A 50-minute stop is generally acceptable, but a
90-minute stop is too long, the court said.

The 11th Circuit is the appellate court that hears appeals from all
federal court decisions in Alabama, Georgia and Florida. Appeals from
the 11th Circuit go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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