United States v. Hurtt

The Third Circuit ruled that the District Court erred when it denied the defendant’s suppression motion. The defendant rode in the back seat of a truck, which police pulled over. The initial mission of the traffic stop was a DUI investigation of the driver. During the stop, as one officer performed a field sobriety test on the driver, another officer “uninvited and without apparent justification, physically went into the truck, partially putting his body into the cabin of the truck through the open door. He eventually climbed further into the truck, placing both knees on the driver’s seat.” The officer explained that he did so to engage with the passengers. The officers subsequently found a handgun in the defendant’s waistband. The defendant moved to suppress the evidence, and the District Court denied the motion. The Third Circuit reversed, ruling that because an officer created a safety concern by going off-mission, the officers could not rely upon that concern to justify detouring from the original purpose of the traffic stop. Moreover, even if the officer had been suspicious before entering the truck, such suspicion would not justify kneeling on the front seat inside the truck with two unknown passengers. Therefore, the officers’ off-mission conduct was without reasonable suspicion and extended the traffic stop. Thus, the search was unlawful under Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348 (2015).

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