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Police cannot extend traffic stops for dog sniffs

The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that police officers cannot prolong a routine traffic stop to wait for a dog to sniff the vehicle for drugs.

The case, Rodriguez v. United States, involved a driver in Nebraska who had been carrying a bag of methamphetamine in his car. The driver was pulled over for veering onto the shoulder of a highway. The police officer checked the driver's car registration, proof of insurance, and license, all of which were valid. The driver also had no outstanding warrants, so the police had no other reason to delay the traffic stop. 

However, after the officer issued the driver a warning for committing a traffic violation, the police officer asked for permission to walk a drug-sniffing dog around the vehicle. Although the driver said no, he was forced to wait an additional seven or eight minutes for the dog to sniff his vehicle. The dog ultimately found the methamphetamine.

The key here is that the officer did not have a reasonable suspicion that the car contained drugs. In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court justices said that the police officer violated the U.S. Constitution when he prolonged the traffic stop, which was otherwise finished, to allow for the dog to sniff the driver's car for drugs.

In this case, the driver was made to wait 29 total minutes. The Supreme Court justices ruled that this well exceeded the time needed to handle a routine traffic stop. Consequently, the police violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Although it is not completely clear what effect this ruling will have on traffic stops here in Florida, one possibility is that it will cut down on police use of drug-sniffing dogs. This is because the ruling made it clear that police officers must let a driver go unless they have reason to suspect that the vehicle contains drugs or other contraband.

If you have been charged with a drug-related crime after a routine traffic stop, it is crucial to ensure that your constitutional rights were not violated. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Supreme Court Curbs Drug-Sniffing Dogs During Traffic Stops," Jess Bravin, April 21, 2015

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