Texas Stamp


PD-1229-16 01/25/2017

"When the cocaine was seized after Appellant attempted to flee a reasonably timed traffic-stop-detention, does an alleged unlawful pre-arrest frisk and prolonged detention render the cocaine inadmissible?"

Lerma was the front-seat passenger in a car stopped for a traffic violation. A woman with an unrestrained baby on her lap was seated in the back. While the officer talked to the driver, Lerma acted nervous; the officer ordered Lerma out of the car and patted him down. The officer returned to his patrol car to verify Lerma's identity and check for warrants. He discovered that Lerma provided a false identification. The officer asked Lerma when he last smoked marijuana because Lerma smelled of it. Lerma stated he recently smoked, and still possessed, some synthetic marijuana. When the officer removed it from Lerma's pocket, Lerma took off running. Lerma was arrested, and the officer seized more synthetic marijuana and cocaine. Lerma was charged with possession of cocaine.

The trial court denied Lerma's motion to suppress the cocaine. The court of appeals reversed, holding, "Because the initial pat-down of Lerma was not supported by reasonable suspicion, there was no basis to have continued the traffic stop beyond the point where [the officer] had concluded his 'investigation of the conduct that initiated the stop.'"

The State contends that the complained-of, pre-arrest frisk is not controlling. Lerma's arrest was lawful and it was during that detention that the cocaine was seized. Additionally, the court of appeals incorrectly held that the stop was unlawfully prolonged. The officer had not completed the routine tasks incident to a traffic stop. Though he may have completed investigating the traffic offense, he was entitled to address and remedy the offense involving the unrestrained baby before allowing the driver to leave. It was during this time that the officer began interacting with Lerma. Indeed, after Lerma was secured following his arrest, the officer resumed his duties and was able to get a car seat for the baby.

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