Supreme Court: Prolonging a Traffic Stop to Call for Drug-Sniffing Dog Violates the 4th Amendment

The United States Supreme Court held on April 21, 2015 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.

The facts in this case involve a traffic stop for driving on a highway shoulder, a violation of Nebraska law. The officer attended to everything related to the stop, including, checking licenses, and issuing a warning for the offense. The officer then asked Rodriguez for permission to walk his dog around the vehicle, which Rodriquez denied. Rodriquez was detained until a second officer arrived. The dog was walked around the vehicle, alerted to the presence of drugs, and the ensuing search revealed Methamphetamine. In all, approximately seven to eight minutes elapsed from the time the written warning was issued until the dog alerted.

Rodriquez moved to suppress the drugs seized from his vehicle, arguing that the officer prolonged the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion to allow him to conduct the dog sniff. The District Court and Eighth Circuit denied the motion and upheld the search because the eight minute delay was an acceptable “de minimis” intrusion on Rodriquez’s personal liberty.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ decisions. The Court, led by Justice Ginsberg, stated that a routine traffic stop is more like a brief Terry stop, than an arrest. The stops tolerable duration is determined by the seizure’s “mission,” which is to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop. Authority for the seizure ends when tasks tied to the traffic violation are, or reasonable should have been, completed. But a traffic stop “becomes unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the mission” of issuing a warning ticket.

The Court states that the critical question is not whether the dog sniff occurs before or after the officer issues a ticket, but whether conducting the sniff adds time to the stop.

Questions? Need help? Attorneys Tom Sieben and Patrick Cotter have years of experience navigating Minnesota’s legal system and have successfully defended countless criminal cases. If you want skilled and experienced criminal defense attorneys on your side, call the Sieben & Cotter Law Office at 651-455-1555 for your free initial consultation.