SCOTUS Rules Police Cannot Prolong Traffic Stop for Drug Dog
April 27, 2015
Last week, the United States Supreme Court addressed one of the finer points of the Fourth Amendment’s search and seizure clause in a Nebraska case, Rodriguez v United States. The decision, released on Tuesday, held that police cannot detain a motorist any longer than is reasonably necessary to complete a routine traffic stop.
The extra time it took to get a drug sniffing dog on the scene to search for drugs constituted an unreasonable seizure. The results of the sniff search would be excluded as evidence against the motorist’s drug charge and his drug conviction is vacated.
In the 6-3 decision authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the driver was issued a warning for driving on the shoulder of the highway. After the routine traffic stop was completed, it took an additional 10-minutes for local law enforcement’s K9 unit to make the scene.
The drug dog walked the vehicle and alerted the officers. Drugs [meth] were found inside the motorists car and he was charged and convicted.
During a traffic stop, law enforcement is entitled to inspect the driver’s license, proof of insurance, and check for outstanding warrants against the driver. These queries are all directly related to ensuring that the vehicle is safely on the road. Once these basic road patrol tasks are completed, the constitutional authority for the seizure ends and the motorist must be released according to SCOTUS.
Regardless of the length of time it takes to conduct a drug search, this ruling says police cannot lawfully conduct such a search in conjunction with a routine traffic stop without separate particularized suspicion of the presence of illegal drugs. Thus, a routine traffic stop cannot be prolonged and cannot go too far.
If you have experienced a routine traffic stop that burgeoned into more serious legal terrain, consider giving a criminal defense lawyer a call. Our law firm offers a free initial consult to review your options.