We’ve all watched cops, and we’ve all seen an episode when the police dogs come in and sniff out the drugs in the bad guy’s car. It’s always a very pivotal moment in the episode.
This makes for great TV, but it’s important to know when exactly police dogs are allowed to sniff your car. In fact, just a year ago the Supreme Court tried to better define when police dog searches are legal at a traffic stop.
The case is known as Rodriguez v. United States and it started back in 2012, finishing in the Supreme Court in 2015. Dennys Rodriguez and his passenger Pollman were driving through Nebraska when officer Struble pulled their Mercury Mountaineer over for veering slowly onto the shoulder of the highway.
Here’s what happens during the traffic stop:
- Struble got the Rodriguez’s paperwork and asked him to come wait in the patrol car
- Rodriguez denied that request
- Struble ran reports on Rodriguez
- Struble then ran reports on Pollman
- Struble asked for permission to have a dog walk around the car
- Rodriguez denied
- Struble asked Rodriguez to turn off the car and step outside
- Rodriguez complied
- A second officer arrived
- The dog began walking around the car
- During the walk the dog indicated there were drugs in the car
- The officers searched and found a bag of methamphetamine
Now the question becomes, was that search legal? The Supreme Court answered that question indirectly. They voted six to three that dog searches are legal during traffic stops. However, officers cannot extend the time of a traffic stop to conduct a sniff search.
The court felt that officers should conduct the stop and complete the originally intended purpose in a reasonable amount of time. While the court did not set a time limit for such occasion they stipulated that stops should only take as long as it takes to check the driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance, and run a warrant check.
This means that officers need to have reasonable suspicion to let the dogs out. Defining reasonable suspicion in the context of search and seizure is a much more complicated issue to handle, and deserves its own blog to come later.
If you’ve been illegally search by law enforcement contact Jacqui Ford.