This week, the U.S. Supreme Court held that police who use drug-sniffing dogs in conjunction with traffic stops can’t keep the motorist waiting after the ticket is written when they have no reasonable suspicion justifying the extra time. Rodriguez v. United States
The case involved a K-9 officer who stopped Rodriguez for driving on a highway shoulder in violation of Nebraska law. After the officer processed Rodriguez license and issued a warning, he asked Rodriguez for permission to walk his dog around the vehicle. When Rodriguez refused, he was detained until a second officer arrived. At that time, the police dog alerted the officers to the presence of drugs in the vehicle. A subsequent search found methamphetamine, and Rodriguez was indicted on federal drug charges. He moved to suppress the drug evidence, arguing that the officer prolonged the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion in order to conduct the dog sniff. The trial court denied his motion, and he plead guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison. The Eight Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that the 7-8 minute delay was an acceptable "de minimis" intrusion on Rodriguez's personal liberty.
Rodriguez appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the Court reversed the court of appeals. Although a routine traffic stop is not an arrest, the extension of that routine traffic stop beyond the time needed to handle the traffic violation (in this case, to issue the warning ticket) would violate the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures, if there is no reasonable suspicion justifying the delay. The Supreme Court sent it back to the court of appeals to consider whether the police officer had a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity that justified detaining the motorist for 7-8 minutes after the traffic stop was complete.
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf