Wednesday, April 22, 2015

SCOTUS: Police Cannot Prolong Traffic Stops for Dog Sniff Without Reasonable Suspicion

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Rodriguez v. U.S. that detaining a driver stopped for a traffic violation longer than necessary to issue a citation violates the driver's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches/seizures.  In this case, a police officer in Nebraska detained a driver for failing to remain in his lane, and after the officer had run a review of the driver's record and determined there were no outstanding warrants/violations, issued the driver a citation.  However, and despite the admitted absence of probable cause or reasonable suspicion, the officer refused to let the driver go on his way until a canine unit arrived to conduct a dog sniff of the driver's vehicle.  The government argued that the detention of the driver was not unreasonable in that it was a minimal, temporary inconvenience to the driver and that dog sniffs were a common tool of law enforcement.

SCOTUS disagreed, and reiterated rules it had laid out in previous cases holding that the length of an investigatory detention is governed by the scope of the reasonable suspicion that justifies the detention.  While the stop of the driver's vehicle was justified, continuing the detention after the traffic matter was resolved without additional legal grounds was not. 

It is significant to note that the driver in this case did NOT consent to the extended detention or subsequent dog sniff and search of his vehicle.  Consenting to police detentions and/or searches constitutes a WAIVER of your Constitutional rights.  You should never consent to a waiver of your rights for any reason unless/until you have conferred with experienced legal counsel.

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