U.S. SUPREME COURT RULES TRAFFIC STOP TOO LENGTHY

In Rodriguez v. United States, the United States Supreme Court recently ruled that police detention of a driver to complete a dog sniff of the vehicle violated the Fourth Amendment because it occurred after the police had completed the purpose related to the original stop of the vehicle. The police originally stopped the vehicle because the driver’s (Rodriguez’s) vehicle had driven briefly on the shoulder of the road. After reviewing Rodriguez’s license, registration, and proof of insurance (as well as the license of Rodriguez’s passenger), and completing a computer check, the officer (Struble) prepared a written warning for the traffic violation. Instead of allowing the two to leave, he asked for permission to walk his dog around Rodriguez’s vehicle. When Rodriguez refused, Struble ordered them out of the vehicle, and led his dog around the vehicle.  The dog alerted to the presence of drugs.  Approximately seven or eight minutes had elapsed from the time Struble issued the written warning until the dog indicated the presence of drugs.  Struble searched the vehicle and discovered a large bag of methamphetamine” and Rodriguez was arrested. After he was indicted in federal court for possession with intent to distribute the drugs, Rodriguez moved to suppress the evidence on the ground  that Struble had prolonged the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion in order to conduct the dog sniff.

The federal District Court found that no reasonable suspicion supported the detention once Struble issued the written warning, but the extension of the stop by ‘seven to eight minutes’ for the dog sniff was only a de minimis intrusion on Rodriguez’s Fourth Amendment rights and was therefore permissible. The Eighth Circuit affirmed this  decisiton

Upon review pursuant to Rodriguez’s petition for a writ of certiorari, the Supreme Court held that a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures. A seizure justified only by a police-observed traffic violation, therefore, becomes unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the mission’ of issuing a ticket for the violation.

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