Officer’s reasonable suspicion upheld in rental-car case

Hannah Putnam, Volume 50 Staff Member

JUDGE ALCALA DELIVERED THE OPINION FOR A UNANIMOUS COURT.

The issue in this case was whether the peace officer who stopped the defendant had reasonable suspicion of narcotics possession to continue detaining the driver beyond the traffic violation. The Court of Criminal Appeals held that the record supported the State’s argument that the officer had reasonable suspicion of narcotics possession when looking at the totality of the circumstances and when giving deference to the trial court’s finding of facts.

In Ramirez-Tamayo v. State, Ramirez-Tamayo was pulled over for speeding. Because he was on the interstate, the peace officer approached the defendant’s car on the passenger side. Instead of rolling down his window, Ramirez-Tamayo completely opened his door to speak with the officer. Ramirez-Tamayo’s counsel filed a motion to suppress the discovery of twenty pounds of marijuana, discovered in the door panels of his client’s car, for the officer’s lack of reasonable suspicion. On appeal, the court concluded that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to continue detention of Ramirez-Tamayo and reversed the trial court’s conclusion.

This Court previously held in Wade that a peace officer has reasonable suspicion when he or she has “specific, articulable facts that, when combined with rational inferences from those facts, would lead him to reasonably conclude that the person detained is, has been, or soon will be engaged in criminal activity.” The Supreme Court of the United States held in Arvizu that a reviewing court must look at the totality of the circumstances to determine whether an officer had reasonable suspicion of legal wrongdoing.

Here, the officer utilized his personal experience, knowledge, and training to assess a situation in which the defendant displayed several alarming factors. Those factors include: driving a rental car, smoking in the rental car despite a prohibition on this type of behavior, the presence of strong odors, failure to roll down a window, and the defendant being exceedingly nervous. When viewed together, the Court held the officer had enough to permit a reasonable inference that the defendant was engaging in illegal activity and reversed the court of appeals and reinstated the trial court’s conviction.

Ramirez-Tamayo v. State, No. PD-1300-16 (Tex. Crim. Sept. 20, 2017).