The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police cannot delay a traffic stop in order to wait for drug-sniffing dogs, saying that “exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.”
In a 6-3 decision, the high court ruled in Rodriguez v. United States that while the use of drug-sniffing dogs during routine traffic stops are legal under the Fourth Amendment, prolonging a traffic stop without reasonable suspicion that drugs may be found in the vehicle are not.
The case concerns Dennys Rodriguez, who was stopped by a Nebraska police officer in 2012 who had observed Rodriguez’s vehicle veering onto the shoulder of a state highway. The officer conducted a routine traffic stop and issued Rodriguez a warning citation. The officer then had a drug-sniffing dog inspect the vehicle, where a large bag of methamphetamine was discovered.
At trial, Rodriguez moved to suppress the evidence as an unreasonable search. That motion was dismissed by lower courts, which relied on an earlier Supreme Court decision in Illinois v. Caballes that said brief delays of traffic stops were permissible under the Fourth Amendment.
In her opinion for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that a traffic stop “can become unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the [traffic stop] mission.” A routine traffic stop would include obtaining license, registration and proof of insurance information and running a background check. After a warning or traffic ticket is written and given to the driver, the stop is over — unless the officer has reasonable suspicion to call in the dogs.
The Supreme Court remanded the case to determine if the officer in this case did have reasonable suspicion to further detain Rodriguez. Two trial courts found there was not reasonable suspicion, but the Eighth Circuit did not address that question.
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