Issue: Does driving in tandem with a vehicle suspected of drug trafficking satisfy reasonable suspicion to allow for a Terry Stop of that vehicle?
Work with a reliable confidential informant led DEA agents to believe occupants of a specific Toyota Camry were involved in drug trafficking on I-94. While conducting surveillance on the Camry, agents noticed a RAV4 with temporary tags that was following the Camry and would change lanes every time the Camry would change lanes. This led LEOs to believe that the two cars were traveling in tandem. The defendant in this case (Belakhdhar) was driving the RAV4.
LEOs stopped both the Camry and the RAV4 on the suspicion of drug trafficking. Belakhdhar consented to a search of the RAV4 but nothing was found and he was released. Determining that Belakhdhar lacked immigration status, LEOs asked Border Patrol to re-stop the vehicle. At this stop, a LEO walked a drug K9 around the car. The K9 alerted on the trunk and a warrantless search under the automobile exception yielded two kilograms of heroin was found in a microwave in the trunk.
Belakhdhar sought to have the evidence excluded arguing that tandem driving alone could not form reasonable suspicion such that the RAV4 could be seized (Terry Stop) along with the Camry. The Sixth circuit disagreed. Noting that reasonable suspicion “does not present a particularly high bar” the court held that under a totality of the circumstances, the officer’s observation of apparent tandem driving created reasonable suspicion to stop the RAV4 along with the Camry.
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