Criminal Defense Attorney in U.S. Federal & Florida and Illinois Courts

Automobile Search and Seizure: Police NOT Allowed to Prolong Traffic Stop to Search for Illegal Contraband



Decided April 21, 2015


Officer Struble, a K–9 officer, stopped petitioner Rodriguez for driving on a highway shoulder, a violation of Nebraska law. After Struble at­tended to everything relating to the stop, including check­ing the driver’s licenses of Rodriguez and his passenger and issuing a warning for the traffic offense, he asked Rodriguez for permission to walk his dog around the vehicle.

When Rodriguez refused, Struble detained him until a second officer arrived.

Struble then retrieved his dog, who alerted to the presence of drugs in the vehicle. The en­suing search revealed methamphetamine. Seven or eight minutes elapsed from the time Struble issued the written warning until the dog alerted.

Rodriguez was indicted on federal drug charges. Rodriguez filed a motion to suppress with regard to the evidence from the vehicle on the ground, among others, that Struble had prolonged the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion in order to conduct the dog sniff. The District court denied the motion to suppress, stating that, “prolonging the stop by seven to eight minutes for the dog sniff was only a de minimis intrusion on Rodriguez’s Fourth Amendment rights and was for that reason permissible.” Rodriguez enter a conditional guilty plea and was sentenced to five years in prison. The Eighth Circuit affirmed.

Issue: He moved to sup­press the evidence seized from the vehicle on the ground, among oth­ers, that Struble had prolonged the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion in order to conduct the dog sniff.

Court Opinion:

Absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.

A routine traffic stop’s “tolerable duration is determined by the seizure’s “mis­sion,” which is to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop, Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U. S. 405, 407 and attend to related safety concerns.” The Fourth Amendment may tolerate certain unrelated investigations that do not lengthen the roadside detention, Johnson, 555 U. S., at 327–328 (questioning); Caballes, 543 U. S., at 406, 408 (dog sniff), but a traffic stop “become[s] unlawful if it is prolonged be­yond the time reasonably required to complete th[e] mission” of issu­ing a warning ticket, id., at 407.

Beyond determining whether to issue a traffic ticket, an officer’s mission during a traffic stop typically includes checking the driver’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof of insurance. Lacking the same close connection to roadway safety as the ordinary inquiries, a dog sniff is not fairly characterized as part of the officer’s traffic mission.

In concluding that the de minimis intrusion here could be offset by the Government’s interest in stopping the flow of illegal drugs, the Eighth Circuit relied on Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U. S. 106. The Court reasoned in Mimms that the government’s “legitimate and weighty” interest in officer safety outweighed the “de minimis” addi­tional intrusion of requiring a driver, lawfully stopped, to exit a vehi­cle, id., at 110–111. The officer-safety interest recognized in Mimms, however, stemmed from the danger to the officer associated with the traffic stop itself. On-scene investigation into other crimes, in con­trast, detours from the officer’s traffic-control mission and therefore gains no support from Mimms.

The Government’s argument that an officer who completes all traf­fic-related tasks expeditiously should earn extra time to pursue an unrelated criminal investigation is unpersuasive, for a traffic stop “prolonged beyond” the time in fact needed for the officer to complete his traffic-based inquiries is “unlawful,” Caballes, 543 U. S., at 407.

Vacated and Remanded.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *