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Supreme Court: Holding Motorists To Wait For Drug Dog Is Unconstitutional

k9 marijuana dog

(via ci.bend.or.us)

By Phillip Smith

In a 6-3 decision yesterday, the US Supreme Court held that detaining motorists on the side of the highway to await the arrival of a drug dog violates the Fourth Amendment’s proscription against unlawful searches and seizures.

In the decade since the Supreme Court held in Illinois v. Cabellas that a drug dog sniff of a vehicle that did not extend a traffic stop was not a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement agencies across the country have routinely detained drivers on the roadside awaiting arrival of a drug dog, then used drug dog alerts as “probable cause” to allow vehicle searches.

The practice left motorists in a legal limbo where there was no actionable cause to detain them, but they were not free to be on their way. Today’s ruling from the Supreme Court says that is not okay.

Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that police may request drivers licenses, vehicle registrations, proof of insurance, and check for outstanding warrants because all those investigatory actions are aimed at enforcing traffic laws and ensuring that vehicles are operating safely—the ostensible reason for the stops.

“A dog sniff, unlike those stock inquiries, lacks the same tie to roadway safety,” she said.

Prolonging the stop, even for a few minutes, to allow for the arrival of a drug dog was improper, Ginsburg wrote.

“A traffic stop becomes unlawful if prolonged beyond the time in fact needed to complete all traffic-based inquiries,” Ginsburg said.

The ruling came in Rodriguez v. US, in which Dennys Rodriguez had been pulled over in Nebraska for a traffic infraction. He was issued a warning ticket for driving on the shoulder of the road, but then made to wait on the roadside for the arrival of a drug dog 10 minutes later. After the drug dog alerted, his vehicle was searched, methamphetamine was found, and he was charged and convicted.

While the decision is a boon to motorists, it’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card for Rodriguez. The evidence derived from the drug dog search has been thrown out, but his case remanded to the lower courts, prosecutors will still have a chance to try to prove there was other reasonable suspicion to think he was carrying drugs.

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Johnny Green


  1. Doc Deadhead on

    This is mostly about “the right to free and unencumbered travel” in the constitution

    The police do not have the right to detain you without arrest

    Reference the link it he prior post

  2. It unfortunate our justice has come to this, especially for these bogus drug charges.no one wants to go to jail, so they hang that over your and these bogus cops and Lawyers keep arresting and charging people, its bogus and needs to stop.

  3. The court does get some things right even if they do give away our country to Billionaires.

  4. It’s all about money. First you got to post that $10,000 bond, then your lawyer wants $5000 (if it doesn’t go to trial) . If you want to fight the charges, your lawyer will want more money. And of course the prosecutor will be threatening you with serious jail time to get you to take the deal. Justice is expensive, and most defense lawyers are just “deal makers”.

  5. You make a good point about lawyers convincing clients to plead guilty.mainly they convince you to avoid jail time.the problem is if you plead guilty to a felony it’s on your record no matter how minor it is. It’s bullshit it’s doing irreparable damage to people lives.most of these people are non-violent productive people getting fucked over by these bullshit drug laws. This needs to stop we need to legalize.

  6. Only about 3 percent of drug cases end up in a jury trial. Here the police will enhance your charges to the limit of their imagination. And then your lawyer will advise you to plead guilty to something just shy of horrific. A friend of mine was told, “if the police found something, then they must have had a reason for searching you”.
    Of course, the stops where nothing was found, don’t end up in court.

  7. If this is going on, and these cases aren’t thrown out of court, then these judges either don’t know the law or don’t care.why do people have to stopped without reasonable suspicion when aren’t bothering anyone.its total bullshit shouldn’t be happening in a free country.

  8. Here the police make traffic stops based on your appearance. They profile those that they think look like stoners. After stopping you, they’ll try to bully you into submitting to a search. If you don’t submit, they’ll make you wait for the canine unit.
    And regardless of the dog’s reaction, they are gonna say the dog thinks you have drugs, and search your car.

  9. I’m all for using dogs for sniffing out bombs, or sniffing out real criminals.im not in favor of any drug arrests, so therefore I’m totally against any gestapo tactics like using dogs.drugs should not be illegal in the first place,So using dogs is just another way to trample.our civil liberties.

  10. How can they prove there was reasonable suspicion when the search was thrown out of court?.I really don’t get these cops, don’t they have anything better to do. The man had drugs, so what, was anyone in danger. Why cant they just realize they made an illegal search as the court said and drop the case already.

  11. Good for the supreme court:this was clearly a violation of this man’s 4th amendment rights.were these asshole cops really that desperate for drug arrests, that they stop everybody and use a dog?.go catch murderers and rapists, those are real crimes.

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