United States v. Cole, 20-2105

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtST. EVE, Circuit Judge.
PartiesUnited States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Janhoi Cole, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket Number20-2105
Decision Date17 December 2021

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.

Janhoi Cole, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 20-2105

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 17, 2021


ARGUED SEPTEMBER 30, 2021

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 3:18-cr-30038 - Richard Mills, Judge.

Before SYKES, Chief Judge, and EASTERBROOK, KANNE, ROVNER, WOOD, HAMILTON, BRENNAN, SCUDDER, ST. EVE, and KIRSCH, Circuit Judges.[*]

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ST. EVE, Circuit Judge.

An Illinois state trooper stopped Janhoi Cole for following too closely behind another car. At the time, Cole was traveling on an Illinois interstate with an Arizona driver's license and a California registration. During the brief roadside detention that followed, the trooper questioned Cole about his license, registration, and travel plans. Cole's answers struck the trooper as evasive, inconsistent, and improbable. Many of the trooper's questions were follow-up questions to Cole's answers and volunteered information. Combined with other factors, they led the trooper to suspect that Cole was trafficking drugs. To investigate his suspicions, the trooper called for a K-9 unit to meet him and Cole at a nearby gas station. The dog alerted, and officers found large quantities of methamphetamine and heroin in Cole's car.

Facing federal charges, Cole moved to suppress the drugs as well as his statements during the stop. He argued that the trooper unlawfully initiated the stop and unreasonably prolonged it without reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity. The district court denied the motion, but a divided panel of this Court reversed on the basis that the trooper's initial roadside questioning unreasonably prolonged the traffic stop. We reheard the case en banc to resolve an apparent conflict between the panel's decision and United States v. Lewis, 920 F.3d 483 (7th Cir. 2019), as to whether travel-plan questions are part of the "mission" of a traffic stop under Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348 (2015).

In keeping with Lewis and the consensus of other circuits, we hold that travel-plan questions ordinarily fall within the mission of a traffic stop. Travel-plan questions, however, like other police inquiries during a traffic stop, must be reasonable under the circumstances. And here they were. The trooper

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inquired about the basic details of Cole's travel, and his follow-up questions were justified given Cole's less-than-forth-right answers. The stop itself was lawfully initiated, and the trooper developed reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity before moving the initial stop to the gas station for the dog sniff. We therefore affirm the district court's denial of Cole's motion to suppress.

I.

A magistrate judge held a hearing on Cole's motion to suppress. Evidence at the hearing included the trooper's police report and dash camera video as well as testimony from Cole, the trooper, and another officer involved in the stop. After the hearing, the magistrate judge entered a report and recommendation with extensive factual findings, which the district court adopted. Absent clear error, we defer to the district court's factual findings. United States v. Bacon, 991 F.3d 835, 840 (7th Cir. 2021).

A.

Sheriff's Deputy Derek Suttles was on criminal interdiction patrol in central Illinois when he spotted a silver Volkswagen hatchback traveling east on the interstate. The car caught his attention because it was travelling 10 to 15 miles below the posted speed limit. Deputy Suttles also noticed a covering over the car's rear cargo area. He messaged Illinois State Police Trooper Clayton Chapman, who was doing criminal interdiction patrol further east on the interstate, and told him to look out for the Volkswagen. Trooper Chapman had about 250 hours of training, mostly related to drug interdiction and other crime interdiction on roadways.

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Deputy Suttles relayed the information that he considered to be suspicious, along with the results of a license plate check. The check revealed that the Volkswagen had been sold and registered three weeks earlier to Janhoi Cole, with an address in Los Angeles, California. It had been insured only four days earlier.

Trooper Chapman spotted the Volkswagen, whose driver was leaned far back in the seat with his arms fully extended, obscuring his face, and began following the vehicle. Shortly thereafter, Trooper Chapman saw another car merge in front of the Volkswagen from the far-left lane. When the other car merged, the Volkswagen did not move into the right lane, but instead followed closely behind the merged car. From his vantage point-about a football field behind the Volkswagen- Trooper Chapman determined that the Volkswagen was two car lengths or less behind the merged car.

Trooper Chapman stopped the Volkswagen for following too closely, in violation of Illinois law. See 625 ILCS 5/11-710(a). After calling in the license plate and confirming that the plate matched the car, Trooper Chapman approached the Volkswagen and asked the driver (Cole) for his license and registration. Cole produced his Arizona driver's license and California registration. In response to Trooper Chapman's questions, Cole confirmed that his license showed his current address and that he owned the Volkswagen. Trooper Chapman then asked Cole to sit in his squad car so he could explain the purpose of the stop in a quieter and safer setting. While standing by Cole's car, Trooper Chapman saw numerous drinks and snacks in the car, which led him to believe that Cole had been traveling long distances. He observed, though, that the only luggage in the car was a small backpack.

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In the squad car, Trooper Chapman spent about a minute explaining the details of how Cole had followed the other car too closely. He then asked Cole about his Arizona driver's license and California license plate. Cole offered, "I'm a chef. I spend most of my time between Los Angeles and Maryland and New York at work. But I genuinely had a job in Arizona. And I genuinely keep this driver's license because of the expiration date."

About four minutes into the stop, Trooper Chapman began inquiring into Cole's travel plans. He first asked where Cole was headed. Cole answered, Maryland, because his boss resided in Maryland. Following up, the trooper asked where Cole worked and for whom. Cole responded that he was a personal chef for two former professional football players and, in between, an ordinary chef. After confirming Cole's destination (Maryland), the trooper asked Cole where his trip began. Cole did not answer the question initially. Instead, he offered that he had met up with some friends and family in Colorado Springs. The trooper asked again where the trip began. Cole clarified that his trip started in Maryland. From there, he went to Cincinnati, before heading to Colorado Springs, then Boulder, and was going back home to Maryland when the trooper stopped him. The trooper asked Cole when he left on the trip. Cole said about four to five days earlier.

The trooper then moved on to the vehicle's information. He questioned Cole as to how long he had owned the Volkswagen. Cole said six months, adding that he just had the paperwork transferred. He explained that the car was a recent purchase. He had been driving with his friend's paperwork and had only recently acquired the insurance and registration. Looking at Cole's paperwork, the trooper noted that the

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car had been registered on June 4, 2018. Cole verified that was correct; his girlfriend had registered the car then.

Trooper Chapman next inquired where Cole was living. Cole said he spent most of his time in Los Angeles, adding that he had a child in both Los Angeles and Florida and was planning to move to Florida. The trooper wondered, "So, you've got an Arizona driver's license that says Tucson ... I'm just trying to ... And you said you've been traveling from Maryland, so have you been staying recently in Maryland?" Cole replied, "Yes. I have family in Maryland. My boss is in Maryland. When I work in Maryland, I stay by my uncle. But this driver's license, I genuinely keep it just because of the expiration. I haven't been in Arizona in a long time." The trooper followed up, "So your primary address, or your current address, is in California. But recently you've been staying in .." Before he could finish, Cole interjected, "Yeah, cause I'm a chef. I travel." The trooper asked, "Back and forth?" Cole said yes, explaining that he went wherever he got jobs. The trooper concluded by asking Cole why he did not fly. Cole responded, "Fly? I have a car. And I travel with pots sometimes. I'm a chef. Occasionally I travel with a bicycle."

Trooper Chapman thought that Cole's travel details sounded vague and made up. Cole appeared extremely nervous during the stop. Among other physical symptoms, he was breathing heavily, and his neck was sweaty.

Less than nine minutes into the stop, Trooper Chapman told Cole that he was going to issue him a warning. He explained, though, that they would have to relocate to a nearby gas station for safety reasons. Cole returned to his own car, and they drove separately to the gas station. At the gas station, Trooper Chapman called for a K-9 unit. While waiting,

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Trooper Chapman continued questioning Cole about his travel plans. He regarded Cole's answers as increasingly suspicious. He also learned from dispatch that Cole had been arrested three times on drug trafficking charges. About 45 minutes after the stop began, the K-9 unit alerted on Cole's car. Officers searched the car and found large quantities of methamphetamine and heroin.

B.

A federal grand jury charged Cole with possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine (Count 1) and heroin (Count 2). Cole moved to suppress the drugs found in his car and his statements during the stop. The magistrate judge recommended...

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