Breaking Bad: District of Vermont Deems Detention of Pregnant Passenger in Need of Bathroom Break Reasonable So Female Officer (Who Never Took Her to the Bathroom) Could Arrive

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Authorities believe that a a vehicle contains narcotics. They detain a passenger and call for a narcotics dog. The dog arrives 45 minutes later. Another 20-30 minutes pass, and the authorities still haven’t conducted the canine sniff. The passenger confesses. The court is going to deem to detention unreasonable.

Authorities believe that a vehicle contains narcotics. They detain a passenger who claims that she is pregnant and needs to use a bathroom. The authorities call for a female officer to escort her to a bathroom. The female officer arrives 45 minutes later. Another 20-30 minutes pass, and the female officer still hasn’t take the passenger to a bathroom. The passenger confesses. In United States v. Baptiste, 2011 WL 3793653 (D.Vt. 2011), the United States District Court for the District of Vermont deemed the detention reasonable. Huh?

In Baptiste, officers suspected that Kimberly Baker and others were involved in a conspiracy to transport Oxycontin from New York to Vermont and, on June 15, 2010, properly obtained a warrant to search Baker’s Chevy Suburban. An officer later pulled over the Suburban at 7:35 P.M. on June 24, 2010, and, when back-up units arrived, officers ordered the Suburban’s occupants, including Shaquan Baptiste, out of the vehicle.

While other officers searched the Suburban, Officer Michael Henry handcuffed Baptiste for about 15-20 minutes and interrogated her. Baptiste denied any involvement in any crime and told Henry that she was pregnant and needed to urinate.

D.E.A. Special Agent Thomas Doud then approached Baptiste and Henry.

Doud testified he told Ms. Baptiste officers believed there was contraband either in the Suburban, or on or in some of its occupants, and that suspicion was cast on her. Baptiste denied possessing drugs and, Doud testified, “welcomed” an opportunity to be searched. Doud told her they would arrange for a female officer to do that, and if no drugs were found, they would apply for a warrant for a body cavity search. Ms. Baptiste responded there was no need for a warrant, that she would consent so long as the search was performed by a medical professional at a hospital. Baptiste repeated what she had told Officer Henry….Doud testified Ms. Baptiste told him she needed to urinate and wanted to do so as soon as possible. Doud told her there was no female officer on the scene, that he needed a female officer to escort her, and told her of his concern regarding destruction of evidence. Doud testified he left Ms. Baptiste and Officer Henry to attend to other aspects of the investigation.

Doud then left and eventually talked to Baker, who admitted that she had 2 packages of pills concealed in a body cavity. Officer Jessica Stewart then arrived after Henry had been with Baptiste for about 45 minutes. When Stewart arrived,

Doud turned his attention to Ms. Baptiste again. Ms. Baptiste, who had seen the female officer arrive, was now “demanding to go to the bathroom,” and at some point entered Officer Stewart’s car. Doud testified that while he had intended to have Officer Stewart escort Baptiste to a restroom to search her and allow her to urinate, [another officer] suggested that because Baker had just admitted to concealing pills in a body cavity, retrieving them was a priority, and Doud agreed. He asked Stewart to supervise the recovery of pills from Baker, and Stewart drove to Ms. Baker’s location, with Ms. Baptiste in her cruiser.

Eventually, Baptiste became aware of Baker’s confession, and

Baptiste told Doud the need to “talk” was now more important than her need to urinate. Doud understood this to mean she wished to disclose she was concealing contraband, and administered oral Miranda warnings….Baptiste confessed she had 280 pills inside her underwear and this was her second drug run to Vermont. She was arrested, and then in Officer Stewart’s presence, she surrendered a bag hidden within her clothing that held 275 Oxycontin pills.

Baptiste’s confession came at about 8:45 P.M. Baptiste was eventually charged with conspiracy to distribute oxycodene, and she moved to suppress her confession and the pills recovered from her.

In addressing Baptiste’s motion to suppress, the United States District Court for the District of Vermont noted that Baptiste’s “detention justified as incident to the warranted automobile search.” The question was simply whether the length of the detention was reasonable. And, according to the court,

In Ms. Baptiste’s case, after the searches were completed, Ms. Baptiste was not handcuffed and was detained while agents investigated suspicions regarding whether contraband would be found on passengers. She had already consented to a search of her person, and it was reasonable for the officers to wait for a female officer to assist her. While waiting for the female officer’s assistance, Ms. Baptiste learned contraband had been recovered from her fellow passenger and volunteered to “talk” to agent Doud. She made incriminating statements only after Miranda warnings were issued.

While it is not clear exactly how much time elapsed between the end of the vehicle search and her incriminating statements, according to Doud’s hearing testimony, Ms. Baptiste made her statements at approximately 8:45 p.m., about an hour and ten minutes after the initial stop. Accepting Doud’s testimony that the search ended approximately forty-five minutes after the vehicle stop, Baptiste’s post-search investigative detention lasted approximately thirty minutes and was not unreasonably prolonged. See United States v. Sharpe, 470 U.S. 675, 683 (1985) (finding 20–minute traffic detention or stop proper); United States v. Glover, 957 F.2d 1004, 1013 (2d Cir. 1992) (suspect could reasonably be detained approximately thirty minutes with bags to conduct brief questioning and await arrival of narcotics dog). Officers and agents were diligently working to dispel or confirm their suspicions regarding multiple passengers during this time.

Thus, the court found that Baptiste’s detention was reasonable. I stridently disagree and feel like the court addressed the wrong issue. Now, I don’t say this to disregard what happened before Officer Stewart arrived. There is certainly at least a question about whether it was reasonable to force an apparently pregnant woman to wait 45 minutes before she could use a bathroom so that a female officer could arrive. But that’s not the biggest issue that I see in Baptiste.

The biggest issue I see involves what happened after Stewart arrived. The court analogized Baptiste to cases in which a suspect is detained while officers wait for narcotics dogs to arrive. The problem is that courts deem such detentions reasonable only when officers both diligently call for a narcotics dog and diligently conduct the canine sniff once the dog has arrived. When officers call for a narcotics dog but then don’t immediately conduct the canine sniff, the detention of the suspect is no longer reasonable. See, e.g., State v. Sweeney, 227 P.3d 868, 872 (Ariz.App. Div. 1 2010) (deeming a detention unreasonable when, after arrival of a narcotics dog, an officer waited for a second officer to arrive before conducting the canine sniff).

The same should have held true in Baptiste. While the officers might have diligently called for a female officer, that officer didn’t diligently take Baptiste to the bathroom once she arrived. Instead, Officer Stewart drove her over to another suspect who had just confessed, and it was another 20-30 minutes after Officer Stewart arrived before Baptiste confessed. Simply put, this was unreasonable.

-Colin Miller

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One Response to Breaking Bad: District of Vermont Deems Detention of Pregnant Passenger in Need of Bathroom Break Reasonable So Female Officer (Who Never Took Her to the Bathroom) Could Arrive

  1. annceline says:

    Thank you Colin for getting my story out, in the interim of my case finalizing I feel that the actions of Doud are incomprehensible. His tactics disgusting and his demeanor appalling. I was not in VT moving “pills” as he says, this was my first time in any criminal situation at all. Doud even went as far to misconstrue my words and say that I told him this was my second time. I will comment further after my Trial, Thanks Again.

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