An Oklahoma trooper pulled Courtney over for driving 82 in a 75 and failing to dim his headlights. Courtney apparently took his time about pulling over (later claiming he was driving to a well-lit gas station for his own safety). The trooper instructed Courtney to get out of his car and sit down in the front seat of the trooper's car where he would be giving him a written warning for the traffic offenses. A very highway patrol thing to do... maybe someday I'll find a trooper who can explain it to me.
Anyway, while the trooper was completing a written warning, he asked Courtney about his travel plans. Courtney said he was driving to Tennessee to Tulsa because his family lived in one place and his job was in the other, so he went back and forth a lot. The trooper observed that Courtney seemed very nervous (the court decision mentions nervous laughter, yawning, shaky hands, a visibly pulsing carotid artery, and Courtney's heartbeat being visible through his shirt. Can't say I've ever seen that last one...).
After releasing Courtney on a warning, The trooper asked Courtney if he would mind answering a few more questions. Courtney declined, but then the trooper ordered him to stop and to get back in the trooper's car. The trooper told him he was being detained for suspicion of criminal activity, and asked him if there were any guns, drugs, or large amounts of cash in the car. Courtney told him there was a gun in the trunk.
The trooper called for a K9 (who did not alert on the car), and checked Courtney's criminal history. The criminal history showed a juvenile adjudication of a felony offense 12 years ago. Oklahoma law prohibits a person from possessing a firearm if they have an adult felony conviction, or if within the last ten years they have had a juvenile felony adjudication. The trooper arrested Courtney for being a felon in possession of a handgun (even though he wasn't). Courtney was released three days later, charges were never filed. It took almost a full year for him to get his gun back. He filed a 1983 suit against the trooper and the state, arguing that the traffic stop was unreasonably extended and that he was arrested without probable cause. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants based on qualified immunity, and Courtney appealed.
Regarding the extension of the traffic stop, the trooper's position was that since there was PC to arrest for the traffic offenses, no further justification was required for extending the stop. The Tenth Circuit disagreed. The trooper cited cases which have shown the Fourth Amendment allows for custodial arrests even for minor traffic offenses, and that the Fourth Amendment allows for arrest even when state law says that a person should be released on a summons, and that the Fourth Amendment allows for arrests even when the officer thinks he is arresting someone for a crime other than the one he has probable cause for. But none of these cases allow an officer to continue to detain someone for a traffic offense that he has already released someone on a warning for. The Tenth Circuit didn't find that reasonable in this case, either.
However, the Tenth was willing to humor the trooper's argument that the extension of the stop was justified by reasonable suspicion. The district court had identified three factors establishing reasonable suspicion: Courtney's delay in pulling over, Courtney's extreme nervousness, and Courtney's travel plans. Although the Tenth observed that Courtney's travel plans weren't suspicious at all, the other two factors were just barely enough to establish reasonable suspicion. So the Tenth affirmed the lower court's grant of qualified immunity as it related to extending the stop.
But the arrest is another matter. The district court had reasoned that the trooper might have thought that the juvenile adjudication had been charged as an adult, but there was no basis for that (especially since the criminal history described it as a juvenile adjudication). The district court had also held that the trooper had probable cause to arrest Courtney for obstruction, because Courtney claimed not to remember the juvenile adjudication. The Tenth saw that for the nonsense it is.
Since there was no probable cause to justify Courtney's arrest (or the year long retention of his gun), the Tenth reversed the granting of qualified immunity as it related to everything other than extending the stop. The case was sent back to the district court for further proceedings.