In April of this year, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision in Rodriguez v. United States which places serious limitations on traffic stops conducted by the police. In Rodriguez the Supreme Court ruled that the police cannot extend the duration of a traffic stop, even for a “de-minimis” amount of time, without reasonable suspicion for reasons unrelated to vehicle and driver safety. A police officer stopped Rodriguez for driving on the shoulder in Nebraska. After the officer did everything related to the stop, including checking his license, insurance and issuing a warning, he asked Rodriguez if he would give him permission to walk his dog around his vehicle to check for the presence of drugs. When Rodriguez refused, the officer told him to wait until a second squad car arrived with the dog. After the second officer arrived, the officer walked the dog around Rodriguez’s vehicle and notified the officer that it had detected drugs. The officer searched the vehicle and discovered methamphetamine. Rodriguez was arrested and charged with various federal drug offenses. Rodriguez filed a Motion to Suppress claiming that the officer unreasonable delayed the stop to investigate other crimes without reasonable suspicion. The Federal Magistrate, who conducted the hearing on the motion, agreed that there was no suspicion to support detaining Rodriguez but that since the detention only took 7 to 8 minutes, it was “de minimis” and did not infringe on his personal liberty. The Magistrate recommended denial of the motion and the Federal Judge agreed and denied Rodriguez’s motion. Rodriguez entered a conditional guilty plea and was sentenced to 5 years in Federal Prison. The Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court and Rodriguez appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held “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 police authority for a traffic stop seizure ends as soon as soon as the tasks necessary for the traffic stop are completed, or should reasonably have been completed. So once the officer checks the license, insurance, checks for warrants and issues the ticket, the police officer’s authority to detain someone ends. The case was sent back to the District Court to address the issue of whether the officer had any reasonable suspicion to call for the dog because this issue was never explored by the trial court.
This case is important because this stuff happens all the time. The police will pull over a vehicle and once the ticket is issued start asking questions and delay the driver to come up with more evidence. What started as a simple traffic stop quickly evolves into a gun case or a drug case.
In case you think that this doesn’t happen often, there is a similar allegation in a drug case currently pending in Kane County. On August 13, 2005, a Utah woman was pulled over on I-90 near Hampshire by a Kane County Sheriff’s Deputy. According to her attorney, after she was issued a warning, the Deputy started asking the woman questions that had nothing to do with the traffic stop. The Deputy repeatedly asked for consent to search her vehicle and was repeatedly denied permission. The Deputy called for a drug sniffing dog. The vehicle was eventually searched and heroin was found. The driver claims that the dog never signaled the presence of drugs but her vehicle was searched anyway. This case has focused attention on the Kane County Sheriff’s Office. Judges have ruled against the Kane County Sheriff’s Office on 3 cases in the past year. One case involved the strip search of a Minnesota man who was illegally strip searched, a traffic stop of a retired Oregon deputy that was improperly prolonged in 2014, and the stop of 3 Minnesota residents that was improperly prolonged. The Minnesota man who was improperly strip searched and the retired Oregon deputy have filed Federal lawsuits against Kane County and the Sheriff. The case involving the 3 Minnesota residents has been appealed by prosecutors.