Supreme Court Rules Cops Cannot Detain You While Waiting on Drug Sniffing Dog.

The Supreme Court has determined that it's unconstitutional for police to detain you without reasonable suspicion while waiting for a drug sniffing dog.

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Image Credit: WikiPedia

Rodriguez v. United States: In a 6 to 3 vote the Supreme Court has determined that it’s unconstitutional for police to detain you without reasonable suspicion while waiting for a drug sniffing dog to be brought to the scene.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote: “We hold 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 ruling states. “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”

This is a landmark ruling because law enforcement must now set a responsible policy for deploying dogs before completing the traffic stop. To put it simply, cops need to determine reasonable suspicion before issuing a warning or ticket for the initial offense.

For those not familiar with the case, it all started when Officer Morgan Strubble witnessed Denny’s Rodriguez swerve his Mercury Mountaineer onto the shoulder of Highway 275 in Nebraska for a brief moment then he quickly corrected into the proper lane. What turned out to be a routine traffic stop, with the officer questioning the driver and passenger, ran their license’s and checked for outstanding warrants. When asked why the driver crossed onto the shoulder Denny stated it was to avoid a pothole. After a 30 traffic stop, Rodriquez was issued a written warning, indicating he was free to go.

But before Officer Strubble would let the men on their way he wanted to take Floyd, his drug sniffing dog for a pass around the car. At this point Rodriquez refused to provide consent for the search, leading Officer Strubble to demand that he shut off the ignition and exit the vehicle.

Floyd did not alert to any narcotics on the first pass, 8 minutes after the warning had been issued the dog alerted to the presence of narcotics in the vehicle,a search turned up a large amount of methamphetamine.

Rodriguez motioned in court to have the evidence suppressed based on the fact that a drug sniffing dog was used without establishing reasonable suspicion. After receiving evidence, a Magistrate Judge recom­mended that the motion be denied. A previous Supreme Court decision ruled that prolonging a traffic stop between “7 to 10 minutes” didn’t hold any constitutional significance and in no way violated the fourth amendment. Rodriquez was forced into a guilty please and sentenced to five years in prison.

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Source: Wikipedia

Justice Ginsberg in dissension with the 2005 verdict determined previous decisions only pertained to investigations that “did not lengthen the roadside detention” and suggested that in this case the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to further detain Rodriguez.

“An officer, in other words, may conduct certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful traffic stop,” she wrote. “But… he may not do so in a way that prolongs the stop, absent the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an individual.”

Yet, Justice Alito in dissenting comments stated, as an effort to protect their safety law enforcement officers often prefer to alter the order in which the complete their shakedown tactics. In this case, the officer wished to conduct a search but felt unsafe doing so until he had backup on the scene.

“It is reasonable for an officer to believe that an alert will increase the risk that the occupants of the vehicle will attempt to flee or perhaps even attack the officer”

Both Justice Alito and Justice Thomas both believe that the presence of an air freshener to be reasonable suspicion to conduct a search of your car. Alito believes that this verdict will not have a significant impact on how law enforcement performs traffic stops only that officers will adapt the sequence of events they perform during a stop.

Know your rights, a traffic stop can be a stressful situation in the first place make sure that you understand your rights when interacting with police. Stop your car in a safe place. Stay calm and be polite. Upon request provide them with your license, registration and proof of insurance. If the request to search your car it is your right to refuse. If they see evidence of a crime they can search you without your consent.  Don’t forget that you have the right to remain silent! It is their job to prove your guilt, any information you provide them will be used against you. “Am I being detained?”, “Am I free to go?” are the only things you should have to say to an officer.

There are numerous websites dedicated to helping you know your rights. If you are not familiar with the rights you have take the time and educate yourself now, before you have an unfortunate interaction with the police. If you have an additional tips to share please let us know in the comments.

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