The Court of Appeals, over an extensive three-judge dissent, determined there was sufficient evidence in the record to support the finding that the canine sniff was justified by a founded suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. The traffic stop was pretextual, ostensibly based on a burned-out license-plate light:
In the course of a stop predicated on the observation of traffic violations … defendant consented to a search of the backseat of his vehicle. Instead of conducting that search, the police officer walked his canine around the exterior of the vehicle and, in mere seconds, the canine alerted to the trunk. Defendant argues that law enforcement lacked founded suspicion that criminal activity was afoot and, thus, unlawfully conducted the exterior canine sniff search.
A canine sniff search of a vehicle’s exterior is lawful if police possess a founded suspicion that criminal activity is afoot … . Determinations regarding the existence of a founded suspicion of criminality involve mixed questions of law and fact … . Therefore, our review is “limited to whether there is evidence in the record supporting the lower courts’ determinations” … . …
Based on the evidence presented at the suppression hearing, including the officers’ observations prior to and during the stop, there is record support for the determination that a founded suspicion of criminal activity existed here and, thus, the issue is beyond further review … .
From the dissent:
Mr. Blandford’s case illustrates a troubling aspect of police behavior: law enforcement can pursue someone they suspect of criminal behavior without a founded suspicion of criminality, wait for the right moment to stop that person for a minor traffic infraction, and then serve up a stew of flavorless facts to transform a stop in which they have no intrinsic interest into the search they sought before they had any evidentiary basis to suspect wrongdoing. Although this case illustrates that problem, its resolution should be much simpler than resolution of the systemic problem: here, the officers did not possess information sufficient to justify the canine search. People v Blandford, 2021 NY Slip Op 05619, CtApp 10-14-21