In a 6-3 ruling released today, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Rodriguez v. United States that police cannot prolong a routine traffic stop to enable a drug sniffing dog to show up to sniff your car for drugs if there’s no reasonable suspicion. From the syllabus (not the opinion), the background and issue before the court:
Officer Struble, a K–9 officer, stopped petitioner Rodriguez for driving on a highway shoulder, a violation of Nebraska law. After Struble attended to everything relating to the stop, including, inter alia, checking the driver’s licenses of Rodriguez and his passenger and issuing a warning for the traffic offense, he asked Rodriguez for permission to walk his dog around the vehicle. When Rodriguez refused, Struble detained him until a second officer arrived. Struble then retrieved his dog, who alerted to the presence of drugs in the vehicle. The ensuing search revealed methamphetamine. Seven or eight minutes elapsed from the time Struble issued the written warning until the dog alerted.
Rodriguez was indicted on federal drug charges. He moved to suppress the evidence seized from the vehicle on the ground, among others, that Struble had prolonged the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion in order to conduct the dog sniff. The Magistrate Judge recommended denial of the motion. He found no reasonable suspicion supporting detention once Struble issued the written warning. Under Eighth Circuit precedent, however, he concluded that prolonging 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 for that reason permissible. The District Court then denied the motion to suppress. Rodriguez entered a conditional guilty plea and was sentenced to five years in prison. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. Noting that the seven or eight minute delay was an acceptable “de minimis intrusion on Rodriguez’s personal liberty,” the court declined to reach the question whether Struble had reasonable suspicion to continue Rodriguez’s detention after issuing the written warning.
1. Absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.
You can read the full opinion here (pdf).
Orin Kerr comments on the ruling and the dissents by Justices Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, here.
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