Supreme Court: Officers Can’t Stall to Sniff. How Prolonged Traffic Stops are Constitutionally Unreasonable

By Benson Varghese

Last Updated: March 31st, 2022
Published on: April 22nd, 2015

Dog Sniff: What Did the Supreme Court Conclude in Rodriguez v. United States?

Today the Supreme Court released an opinion in Rodriguez v. United States answering whether police routinely may extend an otherwise-completed traffic stop, absent reasonable suspicion, in order to conduct a dog sniff. The Supreme Court held that officers violate the Fourth Amendment when extending a completed traffic stop to permit a dog sniff for drugs. The Supreme Court stated, “Absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.” For non-lawyers this may read Greek, but this decision helps draw a line on what the Supreme Court will tolerate as minor intrusions and clear violations of the fourth amendment involving traffic stops and canine use.

Dennys Rodriguez was stopped in 2012 while driving in Nebraska. Originally, Rodriguez was pulled over for driving on the shoulder of the highway. He claimed that he had swerved to avoid a pothole. The officer provided Rodriguez with a warning ticket for the traffic violation and then asked Rodriguez if his dog could sniff around the vehicle. Rodriguez answered “no” so the officer held him an additional seven to eight minutes waiting for backup to arrive. After backup arrived, the initial officer had his dog sniff around the vehicle and received an alert that there may be drugs in the vehicle from the canine. The officer found Rodriguez in possession of methamphetamine.

How Long Can an Officer Detain You on a Traffic Stop?

An officer must have reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle. As long as the officer has some evidence, more than a mere hunch, that a violation of law has taken place they may detain the individual under present law. However, without additional reasonable suspicion, an officer must allow a seized person to leave once the purpose of the stop has concluded.

In other words, the police could use a canine to sniff the vehicle during a traffic stop as long as using the dog did not extend the duration of the stop, which should be limited to the length of time required to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop. Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U. S. 405 (2005). A traffic stop could be extended legally if during the stop the officer developed reasonable suspicion of another offense, such as the suspicion that someone might be driving while intoxicated. However, where the purpose of the stop has been satisfied and the officer has not established reasonable suspicion of any other offense, detaining the individual who was stopped for any longer would be unreasonable.

The Bottom Line on Dog Sniffs at Police Stops

The Supreme Court makes it clear that it is a violation of the Constitution to continue detaining an individual in order for a dog to arrive after the completion of citation for a traffic violation.

This post was one of the top 10 blog posts on Texas Bar Today, a publication of the State Bar of Texas.

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Supreme Court: Officers Can’t Stall to Sniff. How Prolonged Traffic Stops are Constitutionally Unreasonable
Varghese Summersett PLLC
Varghese Summersett PLLC