MOUNT VERNON — A judge ruled that a Knox County Sheriff’s deputy did not unnecessarily prolong a traffic stop in which a K-9 unit discovered drugs on a Danville man.
Knox County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Wetzel found that William L. Atherton, 40, had not been detained past the time it took Deputy Luke Guthrie to write a traffic ticket during an Aug. 5 traffic stop. Atherton’s attorney, Public Defender John Pyle, sought to suppress drugs found in a search by Guthrie, arguing that Guthrie had unnecessarily stretched out the traffic stop to give the K-9 unit time to arrive.
Writing in a Dec. 21 ruling, Wetzel states that an officer has as long as it takes to “reasonably … resolve the issue that led to the stop and issue a traffic citation” to hold someone stopped for a traffic infraction. An officer must have probable cause that there are drugs in a vehicle to extend the time of the stop any longer, Wetzel writes.
According to testimony at a Dec. 13 motion to suppress hearing, Guthrie stopped Atherton for a stop sign violation in Mount Vernon at 10:41 p.m. Guthrie called for the K-9 unit at 10:42 p.m., and the unit arrived at 10:59 p.m. In between, Guthrie had Atherton exit his vehicle, performed a quick search of the car, and went back to his cruiser to complete a ticket for the stop sign offense.
The K-9 made a positive hit for drugs at 11:01 p.m. Atherton was searched, and a small amount of meth was found inside a cigarette pack.
Wetzel writes that Guthrie “completed the tasks necessary” to write the traffic ticket “within a reasonable length of time.”
Atherton is charged with aggravated possession of drugs. The case is scheduled for a Feb. 5 jury trial.