Today, the Supreme Court released its decision and opinion in Rodriguez v. United States. This was not just a defense win. It was a win for anyone who travels in a car and may be stopped by the police for a traffic violation. The six justices in the majority were Ginsburg (who wrote the opinion), Roberts, Scalia, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer.
Rodriguez had been stopped for driving on the shoulder. After the officer had checked his license and registration, found no warrants, and wrote a warning and handed it to Rodriguez, he required Rodriguez to stay at the location for a dog sniff of his car. The dog signaled that the car had drugs and police recovered the drugs.
The problem was that the officer had no further basis to suspect Rodriguez had done anything wrong at the time he continued to detain Rodriguez for a dog sniff. The purpose of the traffic stop had been completed. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the extended detention was de minimus and not sufficient to require suppression of the evidence found.
The Supreme Court reversed. It said:
We hold 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. 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.
What this means is that police can investigate other crimes during the time that it would take to write a ticket, but cannot use a search for which the police do not have articulable reasonable suspicion to extend that time. They cannot dilly dally or delay writing the ticket in order to conduct an illegal search.