SCOTUS case: Is a dog sniff allowed during a suspicionless stop?

The Supreme Court is hearing a case that questions whether an officer can conduct a sniff test during a routine traffic stop without suspicion of wrongdoing.

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is hearing a case that questions whether or not an officer can conduct a dog sniff of a vehicle without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. In a previous case heard in 2005, SCOTUS held that dog sniff searches conducted "simultaneously" with a traffic stop are not a violation of the driver's Fourth Amendment rights. In this case, the distinction is that the sniff search does not happen "simultaneously" with the stop, but shortly after the stop is complete and the driver has already received his citation.

More on the case

The case, Rodriguez v. United States, comes out of Nebraska. It began when a K-9 officer pulled over a vehicle because the vehicle veered onto the shoulder of the highway. During the stop, the officer issued the driver a written warning and then requested permission to conduct a sniff test of the vehicle. The driver refused, but the officer instructed him to exit the vehicle and proceeded to conduct the sniff test. The entire stop lasted almost half an hour, much longer than the amount of time any reasonable person would expect to spend during a typical traffic stop.

During this sniff test, the dog alerted to the presence of drugs. This led to a larger search of the vehicle, which resulted in the discovery of a large bag of methamphetamine. Due to these findings, the driver faces criminal charges.

The driver of the vehicle moved to have the evidence suppressed, arguing the search was a violation of his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Impact of the holding

The holding for this case will impact how traffic stops are conducted across the country. Although the case originated in Nebraska, any holding issued by the Supreme Court has a national impact.

Legal experts are predicting SCOTUS will rule in favor of the driver. However, regardless of the ruling one thing is clear: there are many rules that officers must follow while conducting a typical traffic stop. A single violation could lead to a dismissal or reduction of charges. As a result, those who are charged with a crime based on evidence gathered during a traffic stop are wise to seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. This legal professional will review the case for any mistakes, including the protocol followed during the traffic stop, to better ensure your rights are protected.

Keywords: criminal defense