The Supreme Court has voted to limit the use of drug-sniffing dogs during routine traffic stops. Although officers will maintain the right to use drug-sniffing dogs, they are not permitted to make suspects wait for a dog to arrive — unless they have reasonable cause to suspect the presence of illegal drugs.
In their ruling, the Supreme Court referred to the 2012 arrest of Dennys Rodriguez.
As reported by Bloomberg, Rodriguez was originally stopped for driving outside the marked lane. Although he was issued a warning for the violation, officers forced the suspect to wait on scene for a drug-sniffing dog to arrive.
Rodriguez waited for an estimated eight minutes. When the K-9 unit arrived, he indicated the presence of drugs inside the suspect’s vehicle.
The officers searched the car and discovered a bag containing methamphetamine. As a result, Rodriguez was charged with possession with the intent to distribute. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.
Although Dennys Rodriguez does not deny possessing the illegal substance, he believes the officers violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court voted to limit the use of drug-sniffing dogs during routine traffic stops. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who penned the ruling, explains.
“We hold that a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.”
As reported by UPI, the Supreme Court justice referred to the ruling in Illinois v. Caballes, which states search and seizure is “unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required” for a routine traffic stop.
— The Hill (@thehill) April 21, 2015
Although a majority of justices agreed with the ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas strongly disagreed. He discusses his concern in his written dissent.
“Approximately 29 minutes passed from the time Officer Struble stopped Rodriguez until his narcotics-detection dog alerted to the presence of drugs… That amount of time is hardly out of the ordinary for a traffic stop.”
The Supreme Court has limited the use of drug-sniffing dogs during traffic stops. However, Dennys Rodriguez’s conviction was not overturned. Instead, the case reverted back to the lower court.
— John Byrne (@johnbyrnester) April 21, 2015
The lower court is now tasked with determining whether the officers had reasonable cause to search the suspect’s vehicle. If it is decided that they did not have reasonable cause, Rodriguez’s conviction could be overturned.
Although the Supreme Court ruling will reduce the use of dogs during traffic stops, Officers with reasonable cause will still have the right to search suspects’ vehicles.
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