The United States Supreme Court’s decision in Dennys Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. ____ (2015), issued April 21, 2015, gives defendants and defense attorneys a powerful new tool to suppress evidence discovered after a routine traffic stop should have ended. This case establishes the rule 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.”
In Rodriguez, a routine traffic stop by a K-9 officer was made and a warning was issued. The officer then asked for permission to walk his dog around the vehicle. Rodriguez said “no.” The officer then ordered the defendant out of the vehicle and waited an additional 8 minutes for a second officer to arrive before using the K-9 to sniff the car for drugs. The dog alerted and a large bag of methamphetamine was found.
On appeal, the Supreme Court held that the officer was required to have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to detain the defendant for those additional 8 minutes because a dog sniff is not part of the officer’s traffic-stop mission. If reasonable suspicion was not present, then the officer violated the 4th Amendment and the drugs must be suppressed as “fruit of the poisonous tree” and, thus, cannot be used as evidence against the defendant in a court of law.
A traffic stop ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are—or reasonably should have been—completed.
The critical question when analyzing the validity of a dog sniff, assuming the absence of reasonable suspicion, is whether the sniff prolongs – i.e., adds time to – the stop. The Supreme Court, relying on Illinois v. Caballes, writes, “A seizure justified only by a police-observed traffic violation, therefore, “become[s] unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete th[e] mission” of issuing a ticket for the violation. Dennys Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. ____ (2015) quoting Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U. S. 405, 407 (2005). Rodriguez eliminates the concept of permissible “de minimis” constitutional intrusions by police officer activities that lack a close connection to highway safety.
Implications for Future Cases:
Defendants – and defense attorneys – now have a new blanket rule with which to argue that evidence discovered by a police officer during a traffic stop should be suppressed. Specifically, Motions to Suppress can now be won on a two-part attack:
- The officer deviated from the traffic-stop mission without reasonable suspicion; and
- The deviation added time to the traffic stop.
Reasonable suspicion arises when a police officer is able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant a particular search or seizure under the circumstances. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). Arguing lack of reasonable suspicion is a nuanced concept. Additionally, whether a police officer deviated from and added time to the traffic stop are fact-dependent questions which an attorney is often better able to address. If you believe your rights have been violated, hiring an aggressive legal team such as the Prescott Law Group is your best chance at success. If you are in need of a criminal defense attorney, please contact the Prescott Law Group at (928) 445-1909 for experienced, aggressive representation.
The Prescott Law Group recommends always obeying the law.
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