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SCOTUS: Dog Sniff Search Unconstitutionally Prolonged Traffic Stop

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 23, 2015 10:56 AM

While using a drug dog to sniff for drugs is not unconstitutional, doing so after a completed traffic stop is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court ruled, in a 6-3 opinion, that the use of a drug dog to sniff for drugs, without any reasonable suspicion, after a completed traffic stop unreasonably extended the stop.

The Case

Dennys Rodriguez was pulled over by an officer for erratically driving and veering onto the shoulder. The stop proceeded without incident. The officer checked Rodriguez's driver's license and criminal history, and wrote him a ticket. 

After issuing the ticket, the officer asked Rodriguez for permission to walk his drug sniffing dog around his car. Even though Rodriguez refused consent, the officer walked the dog around the car twice any ways. Inevitably, the dog alerted the officer to the presence of drugs. After searching the car, the officer found methamphetamine.

Rodriguez tried to have evidence of the methamphetamine suppressed on the grounds that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to conduct the warrantless search. While the Magistrate Judge did find that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion, the judge ruled that the stop was not unreasonably prolonged by the very short time it took for the dog sniff. The Eighth Circuit agreed with the Magistrate Judge and affirmed.

The Supreme Court's Ruling

The majority opinion, written by Justice Ginsberg, states, "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 Court compared a traffic stop to a brief stop under Terry v. Ohio, where the stop should only last as long as it takes to address the violation that caused the stop. In this case, the stop should have ended after the officer gave Rodriguez the ticket.

In the case of Illinois v. Caballes, the Court concluded that a dog sniff conducted by one officer while another officer was writing the ticket was constitutional because it did not extend the stop past the time needed to give the ticket.

So, a dog sniff before a ticket is ok, while a dog sniff after a ticket is a no-no.

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