The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 today that it is unconstitutional to hold a suspect without probable cause, even if it's for less than 10 minutes.
In Rodriguez v. United States a man named Dennys Rodriguez was pulled over by police in Nebraska for driving erratically. The officer asked Rodriguez if could walk his drug-sniffing dog around Rodriguez' car. Rodriguez said no. The officer called for a backup officer and detained Rodriguez for “seven or eight minutes” until the other officer arrived. The first officer then got his dog and did a walk-around the car. The dog detected drugs and Rodriguez was charged with possessing methamphetamine.
According to the Supreme Court, though, that search of Rodriguez’s car was illegal, and the evidence gathered in it should not be used at trial. While officers may use a dog to sniff around a car during the course of a routine traffic stop, they cannot extend the length of the stop in order to carry it out.
“[T]he tolerable duration of police inquiries in the traffic-stop context is determined by the seizure’s ‘mission’ — to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop,” Ginsburg ruled. “Authority for the seizure thus ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are — or reasonably should have been — completed.”
The three staunchest civil liberties foes of the court – Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Anthony Kennedy – predictably disagreed with the ruling. Thomas wrote in his dissenting opinion: “But because [the police officer] made [the suspect] wait for seven or eight extra minutes until a dog arrived, he evidently committed a constitutional violation. Such a view of the Fourth Amendment makes little sense.”
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