SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah Highway Patrol trooper was correct in detaining a motorist whose car reeked of oranges and air fresheners for questioning beyond a routine traffic stop because the trooper could reasonably suspect the driver was transporting illegal drugs, according to the Utah Court of Appeals.

The Appeals Court, in a ruling issued Dec. 31, upheld the trooper's actions and also affirmed a trial court's decision to deny the woman's motion to suppress evidence found by a drug-sniffing dog.

"Indeed, in light of trooper's training and experience, under the circumstances of this case, he likely would have been derelict in his duties if he sent the defendant on her way, uncritically assuming that defendant simply liked citrus fruit, wanted a germ-free and shiny car and enjoyed a bizarre fragrance while driving," the ruling said.

UHP Trooper Jason Jensen stopped driver Heather Richards on Nov. 8, 2007, after Jensen said he saw Richards cross a highway line and also tailgate another vehicle.

Richards gave Jensen her California driver's license, said the car belonged to her roommate and told him she was traveling to Minnesota to pick up her young son who did not like to fly. During the conversation, Jensen said, he smelled "bizarrely strong" and "overwhelmingly strong" odors of oranges and what he thought were air fresheners. Looking into the car, he spotted orange rinds scattered on the floorboard, a can of Lysol, a can of Armor All and two cell phones.

Jensen later testified that had been trained to look for such things because they often are used by drug couriers.

He called another officer who arrived with a drug-sniffing dog that went to the car's trunk. When it was opened, police found 60 pounds of marijuana, the ruling said. When Richards was asked to get out of the car, a smoking pipe fell to the ground. She was arrested after being detained about 14 minutes.

Richards was charged in the Silver Summit 3rd District Court in Park City with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, possession of drug paraphernalia and two traffic offenses. Following a preliminary hearing, she was bound over for trial. She filed a motion to suppress evidence found by the dog-assisted search, and later entered a conditional guilty plea that reserved the right to appeal the suppression decision.

The Court of Appeals cited case law that said police can detain drivers when doing such routine things as looking at the driver's license and registration, running a computer check and issuing citations, but cannot hold someone unduly long unless there is "reasonable suspicion" based on specific facts that can be articulated that some type of criminal activity is going on.

Jensen had undergone "highway interdiction training" to search vehicles for illegal items and had learned that multiple air fresheners and multiple cell phones are "indicators" of possible drug trafficking.

The "overwhelming" and "abnormal" smell of air fresheners in Richards' car constitute objective facts that gave Jensen "a reasonable, articulable suspicion that defendant was transporting illegal drugs" and the trooper was justified in extending the scope and duration of Richards' detention at the scene, the court ruled.

e-mail: lindat@desnews.com