Supreme Court Rules Probable Cause Necessary For Drug Searches During Traffic Stops
In the case of Rodriguez v. United States, Mr. Rodriguez was validly stopped by the police for a traffic violation, after being observed swerving on the highway. However, after writing the traffic citation, the officer kept Rodriguez by the side of the road for several minutes awaiting the arrival of a drug-sniffing dog. Once the dog arrived, it found meth for which Rodriguez was charged and convicted.
Justice Ginsburg writing the majority U.S. Supreme Court opinion ruled that the officer did not initially have probable cause to search the vehicle, and that by delaying long enough for the dog to arrive and make the sniff which provided probable cause, he violated the constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The minority opinion dissented on the grounds that this type of stop “is hardly out of the ordinary for a traffic stop by a single police officer of a vehicle containing multiple occupants even when no dog sniff is involved”. Obviously, the majority must have been aware of the circumstances and determined that it is inappropriate regardless of the frequency of this type of occurrence. Their ruling essentially says that traffic stops, without some indication of additional wrongdoing, should not be used for general searches to find drugs.
Consequently, if you are stopped by the police for a traffic violation, the police cannot detain you any longer than it normally takes to write the traffic citation in order to wait for a drug sniffing dog.
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