United States Supreme Court Invalidates Only Some Automobile Dog Sniff Searches

On April 21, 2015, the United States Supreme Court in  United States v. Rodriguez, outlawed the use of a dog to sniff the outside of a vehicle stopped for a minor traffic offense but only because the citation for the traffic offense had already been completed.  A subsequent search of the vehicle by the police revealed a large bag of methamphetamine and on appeal, the Supreme Court held the search and seizure were illegal.

In Rodriguez, the Supreme Court starts it opinion by noting that in their previous case of Illinois v. Caballes, they had held that a dog sniff conducted during a lawful traffic stop does not violate the Fourth Amendment’s proscription against  unreasonable searches and seizures.  The Rodriguez case presented the question whether the Fourth Amendment tolerates a dog sniff conducted after the completion of a traffic stop. The Court held 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.

Or as stated by the Court, “A seizure justified only by a police-observed traffic violation, there­fore, ‘become[s] unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete th[e] mission’ of issuing a ticket for the violation. The Court so recog­nized in Caballes, and we adhere to the line drawn in that decision.”

The Court goes on to note, “If an officer can complete traffic-based inquiries expeditiously, then that is the amount of ‘time reasonably required to complete [the stop’s] mission’…As we said in Caballes and reiterate today, a traffic stop ‘prolonged beyond’ that point is ‘unlawful.’ The critical question, then, is not whether the dog sniff occurs before or after the officer issues a ticket, but whether conducting the sniff “prolongs”—i.e., adds time to—’the stop’.”

So if the dog sniff “adds time” to the traffic stop, any subsequent search is illegal. If the dog sniff does not “add time” to the traffic stop, a subsequent search is not.

Fortunately for all of us in Minnesota, our State Supreme Court has already ruled in State v. Wiegand that in order to lawfully conduct a narcotics-detection dog sniff around exterior of motor vehicle stopped for routine equipment violation, the law enforcement officer must first have a reasonable, articulable suspicion of drug-related criminal activity.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a drug offense,  please contact Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorney, F. T. Sessoms today at (612) 344-1505 for a through review of your case.