Police dog sniff of car ruled illegal

The United States Supreme Court recently curtailed a police officer’s right to extend a routine traffic stop for a K-9 sniff for drugs in Rodriguez v United States.

Mr. Rodriguez and his passenger were stopped by a Nebraska police officer at around midnight for briefly traveling in the breakdown lane. The officer stopped the vehicle and took Rodriguez’s license and registration. He then went back to his cruiser to check for warrants and to make sure the license and registration were both valid. After determining there were no outstanding issues the officer went back to the vehicle, wrote Rodriguez a warning and gave him back his documents. The officer then asked if he could use his K-9, Floyd, to walk around the vehicle and check for drugs. When Rodriguez declined to consent the officer decided to have him and his passenger wait outside the vehicle while he used his K9 to make a couple of passes around the vehicle without consent and without a warrant. The K-9 alerted and after a search drugs were found. Rodriguez then challenged the search that took about 8-9 minutes after the warning had been written.

The trial court found the intrusion into Rodriguez’s personal liberty de minimis and upheld the search and seizure. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and upheld the decision of the trial court.

The United States Supreme Court disagreed and ruled the search violated The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Court explained that an investigation of a traffic infraction should end when the tasks tied to dealing with the violation have been (or should have been) completed. The Court explained that during a traffic stop an officer may investigate other matters. This is why an officer is acting lawfully, for example, when he runs the license and checks for warrants. However, then the investigation into the violation was completed and the warning was written, the officer relied on nothing other than his own suspicion when he then attempted to extend the seizure of Rodriguez and his passenger so he could walk his K-9 around the vehicle. This is where the constitutional violation occurred and this is why the results of the illegal search had to be suppressed.

If you are stopped you should never try to resist or argue with the police officer. That being said, you should not consent to a search that may be illegal. If Rodriguez had consented his lawyer would never have been able to get the fruits of the illegal search suppressed later on.

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