A McLean County man who was sentenced to 20 years in prison on drug trafficking and other charges was improperly detained during a traffic stop, which means evidence gathered at the stop and afterward must be thrown out, the state Supreme Court ruled.
Thomas J. Davis, 50, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2014 after pleading guilty to first-degree trafficking in a controlled substance (methamphetamine), first-degree possession of a controlled substance and being a first-degree persistent felony offender. Thomas was initially charged on Jan. 10, 2010 with possession of a controlled substance, reckless driving, possession of drug paraphernalia and having an open alcohol container in a vehicle after he was pulled over by a McLean County sheriff's deputy.
Court documents say the incident began when MCSD Deputy Tim McCoy, who was parked on a gravel road "looking for DUI drivers," saw Davis driving past. Earlier that day, McCoy had discussed Davis' suspected drug activity with other deputies, records say.
McCoy decided to follow Davis and saw his vehicle cross the center line of the road "two or three times," and stopped Davis on suspicion of driving under the influence. McCoy smelled alcohol and saw an open beer can in the vehicle. Davis admitted drinking part of the beer while driving, records say.
At that point, McCoy administered to field sobriety tests to Davis, which Davis passed. McCoy also conducted a pat-down search, but found nothing. McCoy then administered a breath test, which did not register the presence of alcohol, documents say.
McCoy then asked to search the vehicle, and Davis refused. Court records say McCoy got his K-9, which is certified in drug detection, and had it do a "sniff search" around the vehicle, despite Davis' protests. The dog alerted on the vehicle and another officer and McCoy did another search of Davis, finding "what looked like methamphetamine."
Davis was arrested, the vehicle was searched and deputies found more methamphetamine and items associated with drug trafficking, including scales, syringes and plastic baggies.
Later, Davis said during a police interview that he was involved with drug trafficking, according to records.
After being sentenced, Davis appealed, requesting that all the physical evidence, and his statements to deputies, be suppressed, arguing that the search was illegal.
In their analysis, Supreme Court justices found that Davis was lawfully stopped, given the deputy's suspicions that Davis was driving under the influence. But the justices ruled McCoy had no valid reason to conduct the K-9 search or search Davis' vehicle after the field sobriety tests were completed.
Prior case law says while an officer can make "ordinary inquiries" during a traffic stop, such as checking the driver's proof of insurance and registration, a K-9 sniff search is not "an ordinary incident of a traffic stop."
"(A)ny prolonging of the stop beyond its original purpose is unreasonable and unjustified," the justices wrote in their opinion. The K-9 search was unrelated to the original reason Davis was stopped, "and could not possibly serve the purpose of the traffic stop by showing whether (Davis) was driving under the influence of any substance.
"The only reason for the sniff search was to discover illegal drugs in (Davis') car, which ... is clearly beyond the scope of the original DUI stop," the justices wrote.
The Attorney General's Office -- which handles appeals on behalf of Commonwealth's Attorneys -- argued even if the searches were improper, the evidence found would have been "inevitably" discovered because McCoy could have arrested Davis on charges of reckless driving and having an open container. The justices rejected that argument.
"(With) no compelling indicators that (Davis) was actually intoxicated, it is far from inevitable that he would have been arrested," the justices wrote. "... It is equally likely that McCoy would have disposed of the minor offenses with a citation, or simply released (Davis) with a warning. The discovery of evidence ... was not inevitable."
The justices ruled the evidence and statements should be suppressed, and ordered McLean Circuit Court to conduct a new hearing on the case.
Davis is at Keeton Correction, a Paducah halfway house.