from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central
Judicial District, the Honorable Bruce A. Romanick, Judge.
J. Schwarz, Assistant State's Attorney, for plaintiff and
appellee; submitted on brief.
C. Ringsak, for defendant and appellant Abdullahi Ahmed Adan;
submitted on brief.
M. Melia, Bismarck-Mandan Public Defender Office, for
defendant and appellant Semereab Haile Tesfaye; submitted on
VandeWalle, Chief Justice.
1] Abdullahi Ahmed Adan and Semereab Haile Tesfaye appealed
the judgments entered on conditional pleas of guilty to the
charges of possession of a controlled substance with intent
to manufacture or deliver. We affirm, concluding there was
reasonable suspicion to extend the traffic stop and that the
district court properly denied their motions to suppress
evidence gathered as a result of the continued detention.
2] While driving westbound on I-94, Officer Steven Clark
observed a maroon, four-door car traveling east at
approximately 73 mph in a 75 mph zone. The vehicle appeared
to weave in its lane and Officer Clark noticed that the
vehicle was from out of state. After turning around to follow
it, Officer Clark noted that the vehicle had slowed down to
approximately 70 mph. From several car lengths behind,
Officer Clark saw the driver reach into the backseat of the
vehicle and appear to place a blanket or jacket over
something in the backseat. Officer Clark pulled alongside the
vehicle and observed the driver with his hands at ten and two
on the wheel, staring intently forward, and a passenger who
appeared to be sleeping. While alongside the vehicle, Officer
Clark observed the driver moving the corner of his mouth, as
if he were trying to hide his conversation with the
passenger. However, not seeing any traffic infractions,
Officer Clark stopped following the vehicle.
3] Although he did not see any traffic infractions, Officer
Clark remained suspicious of the vehicle and called Officer
Steve Edwards to relay his suspicions and tell him to be on
the lookout for the vehicle. While talking with Officer
Edwards, Officer Clark also relayed all of the information he
observed while following the vehicle. Officer Edwards located
the suspicious vehicle and observed it speeding and following
too close to the vehicle in front of it. Based on these
traffic violations, Officer Edwards initiated a traffic stop.
4] The driver pulled off to the side of the road and left his
blinker on. Officer Edwards identified the driver as Adan and
the passenger as Tesfaye. During the traffic stop, Officer
Edwards observed a blanket, covering approximately half of
the backseat, an air freshener, a bottle of Ozone scent
spray, a global positioning system ("GPS"), eye
drops, a lighter, and an energy drink in the vehicle.
5] Officer Edwards asked Adan to come back to his patrol
vehicle to answer a few questions. During this time, Adan
appeared nervous to Officer Edwards; Adan touched his face,
licked his lips, and his shoulders quivered. Adan confirmed
that the vehicle was a rental and explained that he had
rented the vehicle in St. Cloud and used it to travel to
Fargo and then to Watford City to drop a friend off for work.
Officer Edwards stated that he did not observe any luggage
consistent with this length of a trip, but acknowledged that
he did not look in the trunk of the car for any luggage.
6] Officer Edwards also noted that during his interactions
with Tesfaye, Tesfaye appeared to be evasive, never looking
him in the eye. When questioned about the travel plans,
Tesfaye replied that he and Adan were traveling from the
Williston area. Tesfaye was also unable to recall the name of
the passenger Adan had dropped off, even though they had
ridden together for a couple of days.
7] Through a records check, Officer Edwards discovered that
Tesfaye was recently placed on probation for possession of
methamphetamine. After this discovery, Officer Edwards asked
Tesfaye if there was anything illegal in the vehicle and
whether there was any methamphetamine or marijuana. Tesfaye
answered, "No, " to each inquiry, but broke eye
contact with Officer Edwards when asked about the presence of
marijuana. During the course of the traffic stop, Officer
Edwards did not smell the odor of marijuana nor did he
observe any drug paraphernalia.
8] After the traffic stop, Officer Edwards issued Adan a
warning and asked if Adan had time to answer a few more
questions; Adan agreed. Officer Edwards asked a few questions
about Adan's trip before asking permission to search his
vehicle and have a dog walk around it. Adan did not consent.
Officer Edwards called dispatch to send a K-9 to his
location. Forty-five minutes later, a K-9 arrived and
signaled on the presence of narcotics. After a search of the
vehicle, officers seized over two pounds of marijuana.
9] When reviewing a district court's denial of a motion
to suppress, we defer to the trial court's findings of
fact. State v. Kitchen, 1997 ND 241, ¶ 11, 572
N.W.2d 106. However, questions of law are fully reviewable on
appeal. State v. Bartelson, 2005 ND 172, ¶ 7,
704 N.W.2d 824. Whether the facts support a finding of
reasonable articulable suspicion is a question of law, and
thus, is fully reviewable by this Court. State v.
Fields, 2003 ND 81, ¶ 6, 662 N.W.2d 242.
10] The parties do not dispute the fact that the initial stop
of Adan and Tesfaye's vehicle was proper. As we have
previously stated, "traffic violations, even if
considered common or minor, constitute prohibited conduct
and, therefore, provide officers with requisite suspicion for
conducting investigatory stops." State v.
Stadsvold, 456 N.W.2d 295, 296 (N.D. 1990). In this
case, Officer Edwards observed the vehicle speeding and
following too close to the vehicle in front of it. When
Officer Edwards observed these traffic infractions, he had
probable cause to believe the law was being violated and,
thus, properly initiated a traffic stop. See
Whren v. U.S., 517 U.S. 806 (1996) (holding that the
officer's subjective intent for stopping the vehicle was
not relevant in determining the validity of the traffic
11] During a valid traffic stop, "an officer can
temporarily detain the traffic violator at the scene of the
violation." Fields, 2003 ND 81, ¶ 8. The
duration of the investigatory detention may continue "as
long as reasonably necessary to conduct [the officer's
duties resulting from the traffic stop] and to issue a
warning or citation." Id. (citing United
States v. Jones, 269 F.3d 919, 925 (8th Cir. 2001)).
When the original purpose of the traffic stop is complete,
the officer must have a reasonable suspicion that criminal
activity is afoot to continue the detention. Fields,
at ¶ 10. Any further detention, without reasonable
suspicion, violates the traffic offender's Fourth
Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.
12] When deciding whether reasonable suspicion exists, this
Court looks at the totality of the circumstances, applies an
objective standard, and takes "into account the
inferences and deductions that an investigating officer would
make that may elude a layperson." Fields, 2003
ND 81, ¶ 13. "The question is whether a reasonable
person in the officer's position would be justified by
some objective manifestation to suspect the defendant was, or
was about to be, engaged in unlawful activity."
State v Kenner, 1997 ND 1, ¶ 8, 559 N.W.2d 538
(quoting State v. Smith, 452 N.W.2d 86, 88 (N.D.
1990)). Additionally, information obtained by one officer may
be used by another to establish reasonable suspicion if the
first officer conveyed the information to the second officer.
Ell v. Dir., 2016 ND 164, ¶ 10, 883 N.W.2d 464;
State v. Miller, 510 N.W.2d 638, 643-44 (N.D. 1994).
13] On appeal, Adan and Tesfaye argue that after they were
given a written warning for their driving conduct, Officer
Edwards lacked a reasonable and articulable suspicion that
criminal activity was afoot to continue to detain them.
14] The district court found that Officer Edwards relied upon
a number of different factors in establishing a reasonable,
articulable suspicion. Such factors include: the information
relayed to him by Officer Clark, the nervousness of both Adan
and Tesfaye, the different accounts of the trip's
destination, items he observed in the vehicle, Tesfaye's
criminal history, and the fact the vehicle was a rental.
15] An individual's nervousness during a traffic stop
"is a pertinent factor in determining reasonable
suspicion." State v. Heitzmann, 2001 ND 136,
¶ 15, 632 N.W.2d 1 (citing Illinois v. Wardlow,
528 U.S. 119, 120 (2000)). However, nervousness alone is
insufficient to establish a reasonable suspicion.
Fields, 2003 ND 81, ¶ 19.
16] Here, both Adan and Tesfaye exhibited signs of
nervousness. Adan's first signs of nervousness occurred
when Officer Clark was following the vehicle. Officer Clark
observed Adan driving rigidly with his hands gripped tightly
at ten and two and placing a blanket or jacket in the
backseat as if attempting to cover something up. Officer
Clark also thought it was suspicious that Adan avoided eye
contact with him and looked like he was talking out of the
side of his mouth to Tesfaye, even though Tesfaye appeared to
be sleeping. After disengaging the vehicle, Officer Clark
called Officer Edwards and informed him of his observations.
Because these observations were properly relayed to Officer
Edwards, this Court may use Officer Clark's observations
in its determination of whether Officer Edwards had a
reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
17] Adan also appeared nervous throughout his interactions
with Officer Edwards. During the duration of the traffic
stop, Adan left his blinker on. Officer Edwards believed this
to be unusual and a sign of high stress, as most people turn
the blinker off to get rid of the blinking sound. When Adan
followed Officer Edwards back to the patrol vehicle, Adan was
licking his lips, touching his face, and quivering. These
actions made Officer Edwards believe that Adan was nervous.
18] Tesfaye also exhibited different instances of nervousness
throughout his interactions with Officer Edwards. When
Officer Edwards first approached the vehicle on the passenger
side, Tesfaye would not make eye contact; Tesfaye kept
looking down toward the floor mat or at his feet and was
generally evasive. Tesfaye did make eye contact with Officer
Edwards later, when Officer Edwards questioned him about the
presence of illegal substances in the vehicle. When asked if
there was anything illegal or methamphetamine in the vehicle,
Tesfaye held eye contact with Officer Edwards and ...