Supreme Court: Absent Reasonable Suspicion, Use of Drug Sniffing Dog to Prolong Routine Traffic Stop Violates 4th Amendment

On April 21, 2015, by way of a 6-3 vote, the SCOTUS imposed a significant limitation on the use of drug sniffing dogs during traffic stops. In Rodriguez v. United States, the defendant (driver) was pulled over by a K9-Officer for driving on the shoulder of a Nebraska highway. Upon approaching the vehicle, the officer confirmed the identity of the defendant by checking his driver's license, and was issued a warning for the traffic violation.

After issuing the warning, the officer requested permission to use a drug-sniffing dog to check the vehicle for the presence of narcotics. The driver refused. The officer then proceeded to detain the driver until a backup unit arrived, and then conducted a K9 sweep of the vehicle. Approximately 7-8 minutes after the initial stop, the dog alerted to the presence of drugs in the vehicle. A search revealed the presence of methamphetamine.

The driver then argued that his detention for the purpose of conducting a dog sniff after the traffic stop was completed (i.e. issued a warning for original traffic violation) violated his 4th Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

In a 6-3 vote, the SCOTUS ultimately held that without reasonable suspicion to suspect that narcotics are present inside of a vehicle, the police cannot use a drug sniffing dog to extend a traffic stop.

  • "We hold 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. A seizure justified only by a police-observed traffic violation, there­ fore, “become[s] unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete th[e] mission” of issuing a ticket for the violation."

If you are subjected to a traffic stop, and are asked to consent to a dog sniff or other search of your vehicle, you should immediately - but politely - decline. Assert your constitutional rights. Do not give consent to search your vehicle, and ask to speak to an attorney.

If your vehicle or home was the subject of a drug sniff, contact ZLF today at 412-447-5580 for a free, confidential consultation.