U.S. Supreme Court limits police drug-sniffing dogs’ roles in traffic stops

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WASHINGTON –  Following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, it seems fewer people may encounter drug-sniffing dogs during traffic stops.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that police cannot turn a traffic stop into a lengthy search for drugs.

In the past, it seems it has been a common practice for officers to stop a car for a traffic violation and then call for a drug-sniffing dog to inspect the vehicle.

The justices agreed that practice was in violation of the 4th Amendment’s ban on “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said police officers who stop a car for speeding or another traffic violation are allowed to check the driver’s license and insurance. 

However, the traffic violation does not give officers the right to conduct an unrelated investigation into drugs.

According to Business Insider, officers would have to have “reasonable suspicion” about the presence of drugs in a vehicle before being allowed to conduct a separate investigation.

If not, the driver must be allowed to leave after the traffic stop is complete.

The case stemmed from an incident with a Nebraska police officer in 2012.

The officer spotted a car running onto the shoulder of a highway before jerking back onto the road.

The driver, Dennys Rodriguez, told authorities he drove off the road in order to avoid a pot hole.

After checking Rodriguez’s  license, registration and insurance, he was given a written warning.

Once the traffic stop was done, the officer asked for permission to search the vehicle with a drug-sniffing dog. Rodriguez refused, but officers told him he may not leave until the dog arrived.

Five minutes later, a second officer arrived with a dog, who found methamphetamine.

Rodriguez was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, but he challenged the seizure of the drugs, saying it violated the 4th Amendment.

The appeals court ruled that an extra five to 10 minutes was reasonable.

However, the Supreme Court reversed that ruling, saying it was not reasonable to prolong the traffic stop to wait for the drug dog to arrive.

According to Politico, Justice Samuel Alito disagreed with the majority.

Alito wrote that officers would intentionally take longer to finish a license-check and citation so a drug-sniffing dog could complete its own investigation before a ticket is issued.

“Most officers will learn the prescribed sequence of events even if they cannot fathom the reason for that requirement,” he wrote. “I would love to be the proverbial fly on the wall when police instructors teach this rule to officers who make traffic stops.”

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