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Supreme Court Places Restrictions on the Use of Drug-Sniffing Dogs During Traffic Stops

Traffic stops are the most common form of interaction that the public has with law enforcement. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, these types of interactions accounted for 44 percent of all face-to-face contact that citizens had with police. While the vast majority of traffic stops result in a verbal warning or perhaps a citation, many traffic stops are also the initial contact that law enforcement uses to conduct more intrusive investigations. In some cases, simply pulling a person over can result in the discovery of a significant amount of contraband and serious allegations being levied against vehicle occupants.

While traffic stops are considered a “seizure” for the purposes of the 4th Amendment, the legal justification for such a stop are relatively low. For an officer to be justified in pulling someone over, he or she must simply have reasonable suspicion that a crime of traffic violation is being committed. As a result, traffic stops are often used by law enforcement officers to investigate someone who may have the wrong “look” or be of a certain demographic that the officer believes may be more likely to be engaging in illegal activity. While stopping someone on the basis of race, age, gender, or dress is generally unconstitutional, it is hard to establish that the stop was conducted for some unlawful reason when an officer simply was to assert that the driver “crossed over the yellow line” or engaged in some other similarly minimal offense.

Supreme Court Requires Reasonable Suspicion to Extend a Stop

On April 21st of this year, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its opinion in Rodriguez v. United States, ruling that without reasonable suspicion to justify the use of a drug-sniffing dog, an officer may not extend a traffic stop in order to conduct such a search. Put more simply, the stop must not take longer than the “time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made.”

The case began when Rodriguez was pulled over for driving on the shoulder, a traffic offense in Nebraska. After the officer ran the driver’s licenses of both Rodriguez and a passenger and issued a citation, he requested that Rodriguez allow him to walk his drug-sniffing dog around the vehicle. When Rodriguez refused, the officer detained him for seven or eight minutes while he waited for backup. When backup arrived, the search was conducted, resulting in the discovery of a bag of methamphetamine.

Both the trial court and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Rodriguez’s motion to suppress the evidence, but the Supreme Court ultimately disagreed. Rodriguez is not yet in the clear, however, as the case has been sent back down to the trial level to determine whether the officer sufficient reasonable suspicion to justify the search.

Contact a Boca Raton criminal defense lawyer today to schedule a free case evaluation

Anyone who has been accused of a crime after a traffic stop should contact an experienced Boca Raton attorney as soon as possible. To schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys, please call Lavalle Brown & Ronan today at 855-BOCALAW.

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