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SUPREME COURT LIMITS DRUG-SNIFFING DOG USE IN TRAFFIC STOPS

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In a monumental win for our Fourth Amendment rights, the Supreme Court recently ruled that police may not extend traffic stops to wait for drug-sniffing dogs to inspect vehicles, even for just five or 10 minutes.  A traffic stop is only valid for the time it takes to issue a ticket for the violation, and the driver is then free to leave.  This case marks another step toward protecting our liberties and freedoms, since it limits how much power the police have over citizens during a traffic stop.

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In Rodriguez, the U.S. Supreme Court held that police may not detain a traffic violator longer than needed so as to allow police time to conduct a dog sniff for drugs.  This case originated when a police officer stopped Rodriquez’ vehicle for a traffic violation.  Twenty minutes later, the officer issued a warning but did not let Rodriquez and his passenger leave.  The officer had a hunch something was up, but Rodriquez wisely refused to consent to a search of his vehicle. Regardless, the officer held Rodriquez until a K-9 dog could conduct a sniff of the car.  About seven or eight minutes passed from the time the officer issued the written warning until the dog indicated the presence of drugs in the car.  Rodriguez was subsequently arrested and he appealed for violation of his Constitutional rights based on the fact that there was no reasonable suspicion for the detention.  Rodriquez v. U.S., 575 U.S.         (2015).

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.”  The police can do routine traffic stop inquiry such as check for a driver’s license, ask for registration and proof of insurance, and check for warrants.  But the stop becomes “unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the mission of issuing a warning ticket.”

About 10 years ago, the Supreme Court held in Illinois v. Caballes that a dog sniff conducted during a traffic stop is legal.  Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405 (2005).  The Rodriquez decision is important because it clarifies that while police may conduct a dog sniff during a traffic stop, it is illegal to conduct a dog stiff once the traffic stop is completed.

Keep this in mind the next time you are stopped for a traffic violation.  Remember, you are free to leave once to receive the ticket and an officer can’t hold you longer than 20 or 30 minutes.  Never, ever consent to a search of your vehicle!!  The police can’t force you to do anything without a warrant or subpoena.

If you feel your rights are being violated, just keep calm and be respectful.  Do not argue with the police.  We want you to make it home safe and sound.  You do not want to make your legal case on the side of the road.  You will not win, and you may escalate the situation and end up with criminal charges.  Instead, quietly take your ticket, thank the officer and be on your way.  Then call one of our experienced attorneys to discuss your civil rights.


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