Traffic stops are a touchy subject. Many go smoothly-you get pulled over, find out why, then drive off with a warning or, at most, a ticket. When they don’t go smoothly they can result in arrests, car chases, and in the most extreme cases, death is a possibility. So when you get pulled over by law enforcement, most of us make the wise decision to stay civil and cooperate with the officer, if only to get the incident over as quickly as possible. But sometimes, the problem isn’t with you-it’s with the officer.
A man identified only by his last name, Rodriguez, was illegally driving on a highway shoulder one day in Nebraska when an officer pulled him over. Officer Struble, a K-9 officer, then checked Rodriguez and his passenger for their identification and continued to attend to the situation. Once Struble had issued a warning for the traffic offense, Rodriguez was ready to go. However, Struble requested that Rodriguez allow Struble to let his dog walk around the vehicle. Rodriguez refused. At this point, Struble detained him and called for back-up.
After a second officer arrived, Struble walked his dog around. They found methamphetamine in the vehicle, and Rodriguez was indicted on federal drug charges.
Rodriguez took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, stating that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. The Fourth Amendment, for readers who may not know, prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant proving reasonable cause. While Rodriguez was detained after the traffic stop had drawn to a close, the court decided that the 7-8 minutes past the traffic stop used to allow the dog time to sniff the vehicle was a minor intrusion on the Amendment and decided to let the case stand. Rodriguez was sentenced to 5 years, but there was a new decision made by the Supreme Court to address similar cases in the future.
To sum it up best, we’ll use the exact wording from the decision itself: “Absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.” The decision also determines that a traffic stop is officially over when a warning or citation is issued.
Rodriguez v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court (Decided April 21, 2015)