State v. Hernandez, 208 N.C. App. 591 (Dec. 21, 2010)

The trial court properly denied a motion to suppress asserting that a vehicle stop was improperly prolonged. An officer stopped the truck after observing it follow too closely and make erratic lane changes. The occupants were detained until a Spanish language consent to search form could be brought to the location. The defendant challenged as unconstitutional this detention, which lasted approximately one hour and ten minutes. The court distinguished cases cited by the defendant, explaining that in both, vehicle occupants were detained after the original purpose of the initial investigative detention had been addressed and the officer attempted to justify an additional period of detention solely on the basis of the driver’s nervousness or uncertainty about travel details, a basis held not to provide a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. Here, however, since none of the occupants had a driver’s license or other identification, the officer could not issue a citation and resolve the initial stop. Because the challenged delay occurred when the officer was attempting to address issues arising from the initial stop, the court determined that it need not address whether the officer had a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity sufficient to justify a prolonged detention. Nevertheless, the court went on to conclude that even if the officer was required to have such a suspicion in order to justify the detention, the facts supported the existence of such a suspicion. Specifically: (a) the driver did not have a license or registration; (b) a man was in the truck bed covered by a blanket; (c) the defendant handed the driver a license belonging to the defendant’s brother; (d) the occupants gave inconsistent stories about their travel that were confusing given the truck’s location and direction of travel; (e) no occupant produced identification or a driver’s license; (f) the men had no luggage despite the fact that they were traveling from North Carolina to New York; and (g) the driver had tattoos associated with criminal gang activity.