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Supreme Court Places Limits on Use of Dogs at Traffic Stops

In a 6-3 decision written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the United States Supreme Court placed new limits on dog sniffs as a part of routine traffic stops in the case of Rodriguez v. United States. In summary, the Court held that once a traffic stop has been completed, law enforcement may not extend a traffic stop in order to allow a dog to sniff the vehicle, unless the officer has reasonable suspicion of further illegal activity. The opinion can be read in full at the following link: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/13-9972_p8k0.pdf.

A basic summary of the facts are that Mr. Rodriguez was driving down the road when he swerved over the shoulder line and then jerked back onto the road. This action seen by a law enforcement officer (who happened to be a K-9 unit) and a traffic stop was made on Rodriguez. Rodriguez blamed his swerving on a pothole and the officer took his license, registration and proof of insurance back to his patrol vehicle to run a records check on Rodriguez which was negative. The officer returned to the vehicle and began to question the passenger and then returned to his patrol vehicle where he ran a record check on the passenger and called for backup (assumedly because he was already intending to conduct a dog sniff of the vehicle). The background check for the passenger was also negative and the officer returned to Rodriguez’s vehicle and issued a warning ticket. The officer then asked for consent to do a dog sniff of the vehicle. Rodriguez refused to consent at which time the officer ordered Rodriguez out of the vehicle and conducted the dog sniff anyways. Methamphetamine was discovered in the vehicle after the dog alerted to the presence of contraband. Rodriguez filed a motion to suppress in court which was denied and he appealed. The Supreme Court has now found that this type of dog sniff was illegal unless there was otherwise “reasonable suspicion” and remanded the case back to the lower court for a determination on that issue.

While surely law enforcement will now shift their focus to manufacturing reasonable suspicion or conducting the dog sniff prior to the completion of the traffic stop, this is a step in the right direction by our nation’s highest court in restoring our Constitutional right to be free of such unreasonable searches and seizures. If you need an attorney who is well versed in the Fourth Amendment and criminal law, call the Clifford Division of Clifford Clendenin & O’Hale, LLP. Our lawyers are knowledgeable, experienced, and will help you better understand your rights as you navigate an ever complex legal system. Call us today at 336-574-2788 or e-mail us at Clifford@cliffordlawoffice.com.

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