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New Supreme Court Case Rules on Prolonged Traffic Detentions

On April 21, 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that a seven to eight minute traffic stop is a prolonged detention and therefore violates 4th amendment of the US Constitution.

In US v, Rodriguez, Mr. Rodriguez briefly drove onto the shoulder of a Nebraska highway. After the being stopped, the officer checked the license, registration, proof of insurance, and ran a records check on Rodriguez and his passenger. Nothing came back during the check and the officer issued a written warning. The officer then asked if he could walk is drug sniff dog around Rodriguez's car. Rodriguez did not consent. After another officer arrived, the officer walked his dog around the car. Methamphetamine was found in the car and Rodriguez was arrested on federal drug charges.

The US Supreme Court ruled that the seven to eight minute traffic stop was a prolonged detention and therefore unlawful, because the purpose of the stop – traffic violation – had been effectuated. That is, the officer had completed the act associated with driving on the shoulder – checking license, registration, etc., and the additional time added by the drug sniff was an unconstitutional detention.

One critical issue for the Court was not whether the dog sniff happened before or after the warning ticket was issued, but whether the act extended the duration of the traffic stop. The government argued officer safety to justify the length of the detention. It also argued the length of the detention was reasonable because the officer was diligent in pursuing the traffic related purpose of the stop. The Court disagreed, indicating the purpose of the dog sniff was to investigate other crimes, not officer safety; and a diligent officer cannot "earn bonus points" by investigating unrelated crimes. The dog sniff prolonged the stop beyond the point required to effectuate its mission by a reasonably diligent officer – therefore the detention was unlawful.

What this means, ostensibly, is the evidence seized from the unlawful detention must be suppressed (inadmissible in court). This case may have significant impacts on detained motorists. If you have been arrested because you were detained for a traffic violation, contact my office today for free, confidential consultation.