Last April, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 vote that police could not prolong a traffic stop in order for a drug-sniffing dog to arrive. The case, Rodriguez v. the United States, 13-9972, arose out of a traffic stop in Nebraska where the driver, Dennys Rodriguez, was pulled over and given a written warning for an offense. Seems normal so far, but the Supreme Court justices had issue with the fact that the officer detained Rodriguez for several minutes after he refused to allow a drug dog to walk around his car and until another officer could arrive. Once that other police officer arrived, the dog came out and drugs were found. Rodriguez was later indicted on federal drug counts.
So what changed? In both cases, the driver was issued either a warning or a citation.
In the Rodriguez case, it seems the justices focused on the time having a drug dog walk around a car, not the fact that a person got a ticket as what made the search illegal. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote for the majority:
“An officer, in other words, may conduct certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful traffic stop . . . but he may not do so in such a way that prolongs the stop, absent the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an individual,” she wrote.
Drug sniffing dogs are not inherent to traffic stops, which largely are done in the name of safety. The decision sends the case back to the lower courts to find out if there was reasonable suspicion to merit the search and which would justify the prolonged seizure that accompanied it.
In a dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas and others argued the decision is wrong, saying it depends upon how fast an officer can move through a stop and at what point in the process a ticket is issued.
Here in central Illinois, this is a good decision for residents especially those who attend the Summer Camp music festival which often yields many traffic stops and searches. It’s another plate back into the armor of those who are looking to protect the rights of people. Here at the Miller Law Offices, we keep up on the latest in major decisions that could affect you and your loved one. And that provides you with the best possible legal strategy.