Supreme Court Rules Police Cannot Stall At Traffic Stops To Wait For Drug Sniffing Dogs

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on Tuesday that the Constitution forbids police from holding a suspect without probable cause, even for fewer than 10 extra minutes.

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Writing on behalf of the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg declared that the constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure prevent police from extending an otherwise completed traffic stop to allow for a drug-sniffing dog to arrive.

“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,” she ruled.

Rodriguez v. United States, was brought by a man who was pulled over for driving on the shoulder of a Nebraska highway. After the police pulled him over, checked his license and issued a warning for his erratic driving, the officer asked whether he could walk his drug-sniffing dog around the vehicle.

The driver, Dennys Rodriguez, refused. However, the officer nonetheless detained him for “seven or eight minutes” until a backup officer arrived. Then, the original officer retrieved his dog.

After sniffing around the car, the dog detected drugs, and Rodriguez was indicted for possessing methamphetamine. In all, the stop lasted less than 30 minutes.

According to the Supreme Court, though, that search of Rodriguez’s car was illegal, and the evidence gathered in it should not be used at trial. While officers may use a dog to sniff around a car during the course of a routine traffic stop, they cannot extend the length of the stop in order to carry it out.

“[T]he tolerable duration of police inquiries in the traffic-stop context is determined by the seizure’s ‘mission’ — to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop,” Ginsburg ruled. “Authority for the seizure thus ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are — or reasonably should have been — completed.”

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