State v. Campola, ___ N.C. App. ___, 812 S.E.2d 681 (Mar. 6, 2018)

An officer had reasonable suspicion to prolong the traffic stop. A six-year officer who had received training in identification of drugs and had participated in 100 drug arrests pulled into the parking lot of a Motel 6, a high crime area. When he entered the lot, he saw two men sitting in a car. After the officer passed, the vehicle exited the lot at high speed. The officer stopped the car after observing a traffic violation. The vehicle displayed a temporary license tag. When the officer approached for the driver’s information, the driver was “more nervous than usual.” The officer asked why the two were at the motel, and the driver stated that they did not enter a room there. The passenger—the defendant—did not have any identifying documents but gave the officer his name. The officer went to his patrol car to enter the information in his computer and called for backup, as required by department regulations when more than one person is in a stopped vehicle. While waiting for backup to arrive, he entered the vehicle’s VIN number in a 50-state database, not having a state registration to enter. He determined that the vehicle was not stolen. Although neither the driver nor the passenger had outstanding warrants, both had multiple prior drug arrests. Shortly after, and 12 minutes after the stop began, the backup officer arrived. The two discussed the stop; the stopping officer told the backup officer that he was going to issue the driver a warning for unsafe movement but asked the backup officer to approach the defendant. The two approached the vehicle some 14 minutes after the stop was initiated. The stopping officer asked the driver to step to the rear the vehicle so that they could see the intersection where the traffic violation occurred while the officer explained his warning. The officer gave the driver a warning, returned his documents and asked to search the vehicle. The driver declined. While the stopping officer was speaking with the driver, the backup officer approached the defendant and saw a syringe in the driver’s seat. He asked the defendant to step out of the car and the defendant complied, at which point the officer saw a second syringe in the passenger seat. Four minutes into these conversations, the backup officer informed the stopping officer of the syringe caps. The stopping officer asked the driver if he was a diabetic and the driver said that he was not. The stopping officer then searched the vehicle, finding the contraband at issue. On appeal, the court held that the stop was not improperly extended. It noted that the stopping officer was engaged in “conduct within the scope of his mission” until the backup officer arrived after 12 minutes. Database searches of driver’s licenses, warrants, vehicle registrations, and proof of insurance all fall within the mission of a traffic stop. Additionally the officer’s research into the men’s criminal histories was permitted as a precaution related to the traffic stop, as was the stopping officer’s request for backup. Because officer safety stems from the mission of the traffic stop itself, time devoted to officer safety is time that is reasonably required to complete the mission of the stop. Even if a call for backup was not an appropriate safety precaution, here the backup call did not actually extend the stop because the stopping officer was still doing the required searches when the backup officer arrived. By the time the backup officer arrived, the stopping officer had developed a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity sufficient to extend the stop. The stopping officer was a trained officer who participated 100 drug arrests; he saw the driver and passenger in a high crime area; after he drove by them they took off at a high speed and made an illegal turn; the driver informed the officer that the two were at the motel but did not go into a motel room; the driver was unusually nervous; and both men had multiple prior drug arrests. These facts provided reasonable suspicion to extend the stop. Even if these facts were insufficient, other facts support a conclusion that reasonable suspicion existed, including the men’s surprise at seeing the officer in the motel lot; the titling of the vehicle to someone other than the driver or passenger; the driver’s statement that he met a friend at the motel but did not know the friend’s name; and the fact that the officer recognized the defendant as someone who had been involved in illegal drug activity. Finally, drawing on some of the same facts, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that any reasonable suspicion supporting extension of the stop was not particularized to him. The court also noted that an officer may stop and detain a vehicle and its occupants if an officer has reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.