Constitutional Law: Search and Seizure: Motions to
Suppress: Appeal and Error. When reviewing a trial
court's ruling on a motion to suppress based on a claimed
violation of the Fourth Amendment, an appellate court applies
a two-part standard of review. Regarding historical facts, an
appellate court reviews the trial court's findings for
clear error, but whether those facts trigger or violate
Fourth Amendment protections is a question of law that an
appellate court reviews independently of the trial
Investigative Stops: Appeal and Error. The
ultimate determinations of reasonable suspicion to conduct an
investigatory stop are reviewed de novo, and findings of fact
are reviewed for clear error, giving due weight to the
inferences drawn from those facts by the trial judge.
Constitutional Law: Search and Seizure. Both
the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and article I,
§ 7, of the Nebraska Constitution guarantee the right of
the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and
effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Constitutional Law: Search and Seizure: Investigative
Stops: Motor Vehicles. A traffic stop is a seizure
for Fourth Amendment purposes, and therefore is accorded
Fourth Amendment protections.
Investigative Stops: Motor Vehicles:
Police Officers and Sheriffs: Probable Cause. As a
general matter, the decision to stop an automobile is
reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe
that a traffic violation has occurred. A traffic violation,
no matter how minor, creates probable cause to stop the
driver of a vehicle.
Constitutional Law: Investigative Stops:
Motor Vehicles: Police Officers and
Sheriffs: Probable Cause. Probable cause is not the
only standard applied by courts to determine whether a
traffic stop is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The
Fourth Amendment also permits brief investigative stops of
vehicles based on reasonable suspicion when [301 Neb. 294] a
law enforcement officer has a particularized and objective
basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of
Probable Cause. Like the probable cause
standard, the reasonable suspicion standard takes into
account the totality of the circumstances.
Constitutional Law: Investigative Stops: Police
Officers and Sheriffs: Probable Cause. Police can
constitutionally stop and briefly detain a person for
investigative purposes if the police have a reasonable
suspicion, supported by articulable facts, that criminal
activity exists, even if probable cause is lacking under the
Probable Cause: Words and Phrases.
Reasonable suspicion entails some minimal level of objective
justification for detention, something more than an inchoate
and unparticularized suspicion or hunch, but less than the
level of suspicion required for probable cause.
Judgments: Records: Appeal and Error. Where
the record adequately demonstrates that the decision of a
trial court is correct-although such correctness is based on
a ground or reason different from that assigned by the trial
court-an appellate court will affirm.
Constitutional Law: Investigative Stops: Motor
Vehicles: Police Officers and Sheriffs: Statutes.
Reasonable suspicion, as a prerequisite for a constitutional
investigatory stop, cannot be based only on a police
officer's desire to verify compliance with motor vehicle
Investigative Stops: Motor Vehicles: Police Officers
and Sheriffs: Statutes. When an officer observes a
vehicle without license plates or in-transit tags, a
particularized and objective basis exists to justify a
reasonable, articulable suspicion that the driver may be
criminally avoiding the motor vehicle registration statutes.
The State's interest in enforcing its registration laws
supports a brief investigatory stop to ascertain whether the
driver possesses the necessary documentation to show
compliance with the motor vehicle registration statutes.
Probable Cause: Police Officers and
Sheriffs. Reasonable suspicion can be premised on an
officer's mistake of fact or mistake of law, so long as
the mistake was reasonable.
___: ___. A determination that reasonable suspicion exists
need not rule out the possibility of innocent conduct. The
inquiry is not whether some circumstances may be susceptible
of innocent explanation, but whether, taken together, they
suffice to form a particularized and objective basis for the
officer to suspect a crime is, or is about to, occur.
Police Officers and Sheriffs: Motor Vehicles:
Probable Cause. Exiting a highway after passing a
sign indicating there is a police checkpoint ahead does not,
without more, give rise to reasonable suspicion. But it is
one factor which can be considered in the totality of the
Neb. 295] 16. Investigative Stops: Motor Vehicles:
Time. A lawful traffic stop can become unlawful if
it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to
complete the mission of the stop.
Investigative Stops: Motor Vehicles: Police Officers
and Sheriffs. Once a vehicle is lawfully stopped, a
law enforcement officer may conduct an investigation
reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that
justified the traffic stop. This investigation may include
asking the driver for an operator's license and
registration, requesting that the driver sit in the patrol
car, and asking the driver about the purpose and destination
of his or her travel. Also, the officer may run a computer
check to determine whether the vehicle involved in the stop
has been stolen and whether there are any outstanding
warrants for any of its occupants.
from the District Court for Hamilton County: Rachel A.
Daugherty, Judge. Affirmed.
Porto, of Porto Law Office, for appellant.
Douglas J. Peterson, Attorney General, and Joe Meyer for
Heavican, C.J., Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Stacy, Funke, Papik,
and Freudenberg, JJ.
Barbeau appeals his convictions for drug-related felonies,
arguing the evidence was obtained as the result of an
unconstitutional traffic stop and should have been
suppressed. The district court overruled his motion to
suppress, finding the traffic stop was supported by probable
cause. We do not reach the question of probable cause,
because we conclude this was an investigatory traffic stop
supported by reasonable suspicion. Therefore, although our
reasoning differs from that of the district court, we agree
the motion to suppress was properly overruled, and we
December 11, 2015, Nebraska State Patrol Trooper Gregory
Goltz was conducting a "ruse checkpoint" operation
[301 Neb. 296] at the Giltner interchange on Interstate 80 in
Hamilton County. Nebraska. As part of that operation, signs
were placed along the Interstate advising drivers there was a
State Patrol checkpoint ahead and a drug dog in use. No such
Interstate checkpoint actually existed, but troopers
monitored vehicles that left the Interstate immediately after
passing the sign.
approximately 2:52 p.m., Goltz saw a Lincoln Town Car leave
the Interstate after passing the checkpoint sign. The car
stopped at the end of the off ramp, signaled, and turned
north onto the Giltner spur. Goltz followed the car,
eventually catching up to it and traveling several car
lengths behind it. The car was not speeding.
could see the car had no license plates, but had what
appeared to be an in-transit tag mounted inside a black
license plate holder on the rear of the car. Portions of the
in-transit tag were covered by the top and bottom of the
frame, preventing Goltz from reading the state of issuance
and some of the numbers and handwriting on the tag. Goltz
also noticed some of the handwritten numbers on the
in-transit tag were written in red ink; he considered that
unusual because he had never seen a Nebraska in-transit tag
with red ink before. Goltz initiated a traffic stop.
the car was stopped, Goltz approached it on foot and was able
to read "North Carolina" on the in-transit tag.
There were two individuals in the car. Goltz made contact
with the driver and explained he had been stopped because his
car did not have plates and the trooper could not read the
in-transit tag. Goltz asked to see an operator's license
and identified the driver as Barbeau.
asked to see the car's paperwork to determine whether the
in-transit tag was "real." Barbeau told Goltz he
had recently purchased the car in North Carolina and was
driving it back to his home in Oregon. But Barbeau was not
able to produce any paperwork or insurance information on the
Barbeau was unable to produce any paperwork for the car,
Goltz had him step out of the car and walk to the [301 Neb.
297] front of Goltz' patrol car. Goltz' plan was to
"investigate the vehicle" and obtain additional
information from Barbeau about "where the vehicle came
from" and Barbeau's travel plans. Goltz then got
into his patrol car to run Barbeau's operator's
license and wait for backup. Goltz had called for backup, and
a canine unit, almost immediately after the stop. According
to Goltz, he planned to return to Barbeau's car to take a
closer look at the in-transit tag once backup arrived.
a few minutes of the initial stop, another trooper arrived on
the scene and obtained the passenger's identification
information. When Goltz ran the passenger's information,
he learned there was an active warrant for his arrest. The
passenger was then arrested and handcuffed.
the passenger was arrested, the dog alerted to drugs in the
trunk of Barbeau's car. A subsequent search of the car
yielded an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle with ammunition and a
30-round clip; two marijuana pipes; 40 tramadol pills; 60
hydrocodone pills; and $39, 575, which was determined to have
been used in a controlled substance transaction.
was then arrested and charged with (1) possession of a
controlled substance with intent to deliver while in
possession of a firearm, (2) possession of a deadly weapon
during the commission of a felony, (3) possession of drug
money, and (4) possession of a controlled substance. Goltz
did not issue Barbeau a ticket or a warning related to the
trial, Barbeau moved to suppress the evidence obtained from
the search of his car. Barbeau argued Goltz did not have
probable cause or reasonable suspicion to initiate the
traffic stop. Alternatively, he argued the stop should have
been terminated as soon as Goltz could read the information
on the in-transit tag.
State countered that Goltz had probable cause for the traffic
stop based on the partially obscured in-transit tag. The
State claimed this was a violation of Neb. Rev. Stat. §
60-399(2) (Reissue 2010), which requires that "[a]ll
letters, [301 Neb. 298] numbers, printing, writing, and other
identification marks" on plates "shall be kept
clear ... so that they shall be plainly visible at all times
during daylight and under artificial light in the
evidentiary hearing on the motion to suppress, Goltz
testified to the facts summarized above and a video recording
of the stop was received into evidence. The court found that
some of the information on the in-transit tag was covered by
the license plate frame, and because the printing was not
"plainly visible," the court concluded that Goltz
had probable cause to suspect a violation of §
60-399(2). The court rejected Barbeau's claim that the
traffic stop should have ended once Goltz approached the car
and could read the in-transit tag was from North Carolina.
The court reasoned that once the car was lawfully stopped,
Nebraska law permitted Goltz to conduct an investigation
reasonably related in scope to the circumstance that
justified the traffic stop, including asking the driver for
an operator's license and registration, requesting the
driver to sit in the patrol car, asking the driver about the
purpose and destination of his or her travel, and running a
computer check to determine whether the vehicle involved in
the stop had been stolen and whether there were outstanding
warrants for any of its occupants. The trial court ...