Supreme Court Considers Search and Seizure Dog Sniff Case

We’ve discussed cases in the past dealing with the police’s right to search or seize your property, and how there must be probable cause for such a stop. The United States Supreme Court has recently decided a case (Rodriguez v. United States) that sets limits on the police’s right to search and seize people who they have detained, and it could have an impact on how police deal with individuals at traffic stops nationwide.

Police K-9 Sniffs Vehicle at Stop

The facts of the case are reasonably simple. A man was stopped by an officer for a traffic infraction. He was written a citation. The officer asked if his K-9 could sniff the vehicle. The defendant refused. So, the officer instructed him to exit the vehicle, called backup, and had his dog sniff the car anyway. The dog detected drugs, and the defendant was eventually arrested and convicted of drug possession.

The defendant argued that the sniff by the dog was an illegal detention, search and seizure and that the evidence against him should have been suppressed. After numerous appeals, the matter made its way to the United States Supreme Court.

The Constitution and Dog Sniffs

A dog sniff is reasonable and constitutional when it complies with the fourth amendment. But the defendant argued that the sniff here was beyond the scope of why the defendant was stopped, and that the defendant was purposely detained longer than needed, just to allow the dog to sniff.

Of course, an officer can detain someone at a traffic stop that is suspected of a traffic infraction. But the United States Supreme Court noted that in such cases, the traffic stop must last only as long as is needed, and then must end absent additional reasonable articulable suspicion or probable cause to detain the driver. Ordinarily, any additional matters the officer inquires into must be traffic related.

There must be independent, continuing reasonable suspicion to continue to detain someone after the purpose of the stop has been met. Otherwise, although an officer may inquire as to other matters at a traffic stop, he may not unreasonably prolong the stop for matters unrelated to the reason the vehicle was stopped in the first place. However, short delays, such as those that are necessary for the officer’s safety (like requiring someone to exit a vehicle), are acceptable delays that can be taken at a traffic stop.

A police K-9 dog sniff is certainly intended to uncover information that goes beyond just traffic and traffic infractions. And the Court stated that an officer can’t implement a dog sniff just because he has completed the traffic-related duties quickly. Here, the dog sniff occurred after the traffic citation was issued, making it questionable whether it was legal.

But the Supreme Court didn’t make any final pronouncement on the case, as a lower appellate court hadn’t considered the matter of whether there was, in fact, reasonable suspicion to detain the defendant after the traffic-related activities had been completed. Thus, the U.S. Supreme Court remanded the case for that consideration.

Have you been arrested in Maryland? You want attorneys that understand what the police can and can’t do. The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience at all stages of the process representing those who are arrested. If you or someone you know was arrested in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.