August 18, 2017

Colorado Supreme Court: Totality of Circumstances Informs Probable Cause Determination

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Cox on Monday, February 6, 2017.

Fourth Amendment—Probable Cause—Totality of the Circumstances—Canine Alerts.

Several factors led the trooper, who had stopped defendant’s vehicle for a traffic infraction, to suspect that there might be evidence of illegal activity in the vehicle’s trunk, including defendant’s unusual nervousness, an inconsistency in his account of his travels, the fact that he had two cell phones on the passenger seat of his vehicle, and the fact that the trooper’s canine alerted to the trunk for the presence of  drugs. The trooper searched the trunk over defendant’s objection and found  multiple sealed packages of marijuana. Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in the trunk, which the trial court granted. The trial court concluded that the canine alert could not be considered under the totality of the circumstances because the canine would alert to both legal and illegal amounts of marijuana. The trial court ultimately held that the trooper did not have probable cause to search the trunk.

The Colorado Supreme Court reversed. Under People v. Zuniga, 2016 CO 52, issued before the trial court issued its order in this case, the canine alert should be considered as a part of the totality of the circumstances. Considering the totality of the circumstances, including the canine alert, defendant’s unusual nervousness, an inconsistency in his account of his travels, and the fact that he had two cell phones on the passenger seat of his vehicle, there was probable cause to search the vehicle’s trunk.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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