U.S. Supreme Court: Illegal Police Dog Search after Traffic Stop

illegal police dog searchIn a somewhat surprising decision, the United States Supreme Court has determined that police officers conducted an illegal police dog search of a car because the illegal police dog search occurred after the traffic stop has concluded.

In Rodriguez v. United States, No. 13–9972, decided yesterday, April 21, 2015, the United States Supreme Court decided that conducting a search beyond the scope of the original traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and constituted an illegal police dog search.

In Rodriguez, Officer Struble, a K–9 officer, stopped Mr. Rodriguez for driving on a highway shoulder, a violation of Nebraska law. After the Officer attended to everything relating to the stop, including, checking the driver’s licenses of Rodriguez and his passenger and issuing a warning for the traffic offense, he asked Mr. Rodriguez for permission to walk his dog around the vehicle. When Rodriguez refused, Struble detained him until a second officer arrived. Struble then retrieved his dog, who alerted to the presence of drugs in the vehicle. The ensuing search revealed methamphetamine. Only Seven or eight minutes elapsed from the time Struble issued the written warning until the dog alerted.  Mr. Rodriguez was indicted in federal court with the possession of methamphetamine.

The United States Supreme Court reasoned that, absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable  searches and seizures, and constitutes an illegal police dog search.

Beware: Not All Police Dog Searches are Illegal Police Dog Searches

This Opinion, from the moment it was printed as a slip Opinion is binding upon future decisions of any court in the United States. However, this Opinion assumes a few things that readers may take for granted.  First, this Opinion is based on the fact that the officer did not articulate a reason that he suspected that the driver possessed methamphetamine in his vehicle, and conducted the illegal police dog search anyway.  This Opinion would not apply if the officer had some other reason to believe that Mr. Rodriguez had drugs in his vehicle.  Second, this Opinion is based on the fact that Mr. Rodriguez did not consent to the search.  If Mr. Rodriguez had consented to the otherwise illegal police dog search, he would have waived any Fourth Amendment right or privilege that he may otherwise have had. Third, this Opinion distinguishes between conducting an illegal police dog search after a traffic stop had been concluded, as opposed to conducting the illegal police dog search before it had concluded.

When Does a Traffic Stop Start and End for the Purpose of Determining Whether an Illegal Police Dog Search Has Occurred?

The tolerable duration of a traffic stop is determined by the seizure’s “mission,” which is to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop, and to attend to the related safety concerns.  Authority for the traffic stop ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are—or reasonably should have been—completed. The Fourth Amendment may tolerate certain unrelated investigations that do not lengthen the roadside detention, but a traffic stop “become[s] unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the mission” of issuing a warning ticket.  Rodriguez, at 2, citingJohnson, 555 U. S., at 327–328 and Caballes, 543 U. S., at 406, 408.

Beyond determining whether to issue a traffic ticket, an officer’s mission during a traffic stop typically includes checking the driver’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof of insurance. These checks serve the same objective as enforcement of the traffic code: ensuring that vehicles on the road are operated safely and responsibly.  Lacking the same close connection to roadway safety as the ordinary inquiries, a dog sniff is not fairly characterized as part of the officer’s traffic mission. Rodriguez, at 2, citingDelaware v. Prouse, 440 U. S. 648, 658–659.

In other words, unless an officer has an independent reason to believe that you have drugs inside of your vehicle–a reason that would impose suspicion in a reasonable person’s mind–the officer does not have the right to conduct a police dog search on your vehicle.  Any attempt to do so would constitute an illegal police dog search, and any evidence gathered from such illegal police dog search would not be able to be used against you in any court as a matter of law.

Why is this New Law on Illegal Police Dog Searches So Important?

In other recent decisions over the past several decades, police dog searches were not considered “searches” under the meaning set forth in the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. So long as police dog searches were “reasonable” and did not unreasonably restrain a person’s liberty, such searches were considered “legal”, and therefore any evidence recovered as a result of the police dog search could be admitted and used against the defendant at a trial.  This is no longer the case.  In this new decision, any detention beyond the scope of the traffic stop, which is strictly defined and limited, constitutes an illegal police dog search.

Have You Been the Victim of an Illegal Police Dog Search?  The Criminal Defense Attorneys of SFT Lawyers Can Help!

The criminal defense attorneys of SFT Lawyers can help!  Our experienced criminal defense attorneys are well seasoned in the area of illegal police dog search es and will work tirelessly to exclude evidence gathered illegally by the police.  If you have been charged with the possession of marijuana, possession of cocaine, possession of methamphetamine, or possession of heroin that was found as a result of an illegal police dog searchCALL TODAY for a FREE CONSULTATION.  (219) 841-5683.