Following a recent United States Supreme Court ruling, police cannot extend a traffic stop to permit a police dog to perform a canine sniff search to search for illegal drugs absent reasonable suspicion. The Supreme Court found that police use of a canine search to detect the possible presence of drugs cannot extend beyond the time reasonably necessary to issue a citation for the traffic violation.
In Rodriguez v. United States, the defendant was arrested and charged with trafficking a large quantity of methamphetamine following a routine traffic stop. After approximately twenty-two minutes, the police officer who pulled Rodriguez over issued him a warning. After issuing the warning and returning all the relevant paperwork to Rodriguez, the police officer asked Rodriguez for permission to walk his canine partner around the vehicle. Rodriguez refused. The police officer ordered Rodriguez out of his car. After a few minutes, a second police officer arrived, at which point the first officer walked his canine partner around Rodriguez’s car. During the second pass at Rodriguez’s car, the canine alerted to the presence of drugs in the vehicle. Approximately seven or eight minutes passed from the end of the stated purpose of the traffic stop until the canine alerted to the presence of drugs in the car. Upon searching the car, police recovered a large quantity of methamphetamine.
The Supreme Court held that a traffic stop cannot extend beyond a time reasonably required to complete the initial purpose of issuing the ticket. Any time a person is stopped by the police, even for a simple traffic ticket, it constitutes a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Any seizure under the Fourth Amendment must be reasonable. A seizure becomes unreasonable where the traffic stop is prolonged beyond the time necessary to complete the purpose of issuing a citation and checking the information of the driver or any passengers. A police officer must have either probable cause or reasonable suspicion to perform any action that extends the amount of time before issuing the citation or, as in Rodriguez, any action that prevents someone from leaving after completing the business of a traffic stop. After a police officer ends the traffic stop, he or she cannot detain a driver any longer in order to perform a canine sniff to search for the presence of drugs. The Supreme Court reasoned that a canine search is aimed at detecting criminal wrongdoing and goes beyond the purpose of the traffic stop and does nothing to promote officer safety, since the purpose of the traffic stop is complete.
The Supreme Court did not decide that the use of police dogs in detecting drugs at traffic stops is unconstitutional. However, the Court ruled that the police must have – at minimum – reasonable suspicion to detain someone longer than is necessary to complete the purpose of the traffic stop. In the future, even for a time period as short as seven minutes, police will need to point to specific facts which lead them to conclude that drugs may be present in order to justify detaining someone after a traffic stop for a canine sniff.
By Matthew Quigg