In Rodriguez v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that: "absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution's shield against unreasonable seizures." In so holding, the majority found that a traffic stop for a motor vehicle infraction "becomes unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the mission" of issuing a citation [or warning].
Traffic Stops & Drug Interdiction
Police often use traffic stops as an opportunity to look for possible evidence of drug trafficking. Upon making contact with the vehicle and its occupant(s), police look for "indicators" like out-of-state plates, rental vehicles, relationship of occupants, distance from start to destination, masking agents (air fresheners), luggage (or lack thereof), or nervousness.
Based on a combination of observations, police may develop a "hunch" that the operator could be a drug courier. Of course, a hunch is insufficient to justify a search. Accordingly, police will utilize methods to extend the traffic stop in order to secure sufficient evidence of drug activity for a search.
One method police use to obtain additional evidence is a dog sniff or K-9 search. In these instances, a drug detection dog will be brought to the scene of the traffic stop to conduct a search for drugs. If the dog "alerts" indicating a presence of drugs, the police will use this evidence to further their investigation and conduct a search.
Ultimately, the decision in Rodriguez provides a basis to challenge a prolonged detention for a dog sniff following a traffic stop for a motor vehicle violation.
The Impact of Rodriguez
Only time will determine the true impact of Rodriguez. But, you can be sure that an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will look for opportunities to use this case to challenge detentions and searches incident to a traffic stop. Meanwhile, law enforcement will not likely be deterred by it.
In fact, the dissent, in Rodriguez, warned that police will simply look for ways to delay the process of checking the driver's information and issuing a ticket or warning with Justice Alito stating, ""I would love to be the proverbial fly on the wall when police instructors teach this rule to officers who make traffic stops."
With this in mind, it remains as important as ever to have a criminal defense lawyer in your corner at the earliest possible stage in your case. This will allow the attorney to begin to build a record of testimony and identify any specifics facts that may be favorable in defending your case.
If you have been accused of a crime, contact Shawn Curry Law today for a free case assessment: 717-525-8733.