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Is Detention Prolonged if Police Run Background Check?

The following summary involves a criminal case arising in Nevada, but later involving the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit deciding whether a Fourth Amendment violation took place.  Therefore, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling is binding upon police officers in California because the U.S. Constitution certainly applies in California.

The facts involve two bank robberies of the same bank several months apart and a challenged search and seizure in between the two robberies.
Brief Synopsis: A detention is not unduly prolonged if officers decide to hold a motorist for about eight minutes while they perform a background search on the motorist after finding a gun in the car’s backseat.  The Fourth Amendment is not violated, as the detention “is justifiable as a negligibly burdensome precaution consistent with the important governmental interest in officer safety.”        
In October 2016, a masked man using a gun robbed a Citibank branch in Henderson, Nevada.  He stole almost $70,000 before escaping in a midsized SUV that witnesses said looked like a Ford Escape.  Witnesses described him as a black man between the ages of 25 and 30, between five feet, ten inches tall and six feet, five inches tall and weighing between 175 and 250 pounds. 

Two months later, in December 2016, police received a call that a vehicle was stopped in the middle of one of the busiest intersections in Las Vegas.  Around 6:13 a.m., police arrived at the intersection and found Anthony Delano Hylton, Jr., passed out at the wheel of the vehicle.  The police could smell marijuana coming from the vehicle.

Police were eventually able to wake up Hylton, who had pills stuck to his sweatshirt.  Police asked him to exit the vehicle with his license and registration.  Hylton exited the vehicle without his license or registration and told officers his license and registration were in the back seat.

One of the officers then looked in the backseat and could not find the license or registration, but did find, in plain view, a closed gun case with a gun inside. 

Officers ran the serial number of the gun and it was determined that the gun was not stolen.

Officers then proceeded with their DUI investigation and concluded that a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) was needed, so since neither officer was a qualified DRE, they called dispatch and requested that a DRE be sent to the location. 

While waiting for the DRE, officers asked Hylton for his date of birth and his name.  They then called this information in to dispatch to a check on his driver’s license, registration, insurance, open warrants and criminal history. 

Eight minutes later, dispatch advised the officers that Hylton was a felon and officers then arrested him for being a felony in possession of a firearm.  The officers also cancelled the DRE request.
After Hylton was charged in with being a felon in possession of a firearm, he was released from jail.

About a month later, the same Citibank branch in Henderson was robbed again at gunpoint by seemingly the same robber as in October.  This time, the robber made off with $18,000 and escaped in the same Ford Escape.

Investigators eventually arrested Hylton and charged him in federal court with two counts of bank robbery, two counts of using a firearm during and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.  By the time the case was filed in federal court, officers realized that the gun found in the backseat of Hylton’s car when he passed out in the middle of the Las Vegas intersection was the same gun he used in the first bank robbery.

Early in the case, Hylton moved to suppress the evidence resulting from the traffic stop, including the seized firearm.  Eventually, the judge denied the motion, ruling that the officers did not unreasonably prolong the traffic stop while doing the background check and even if they did, the inevitable discovery exception applied.
The case then went to trial and Hylton was convicted on four counts. 

Hylton then appealed the motion to suppress to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress, holding that the officer’s decision to run a criminal-history check on an occupant of a vehicle after initiating a traffic stop is justifiable as a negligibly burdensome precaution consistent with the important governmental interest in officer safety. 

We caution the reader that this type of argument can undermine a defendant’s credibility, as here, the delay was only eight minutes and Hylton was waiting anyways for the DRE to come to the scene, so the delay, if any, would have been even longer if the DRE had eventually arrived at the scene a few minutes later.  Moreover, it is important to recall that Hylton was found passed out in the middle of an intersection, so he was only missing sleep.  In other words, the delay was not while he was on his way to work where time was important.  The end result of Hylton’s “unreasonable delay and a prolonged detention” argument showed he was grasping at straws.

The citation for the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit ruling discussed above is United States v. Anthony Delano Hylton (9th Cir. 2022) 30 F. 4th 842.

For more information about prolonged detentions as being a Fourth Amendment violation, please click on the following articles:
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