On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that a Nebraska police officer violated the Fourth Amendment in the case of Rodriguez v. United States, when he made a driver wait an extra eight minutes during a traffic stop while a drug dog sniffed the outside of his car.
“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,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on behalf of the Court.
The ruling states that without reasonable suspicion, “police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff” violates the Fourth Amendment.
The incident surrounding the case occurred in 2012 when Dennys Rodriguez was pulled over for driving on the shoulder of a Nebraska highway by Officer Struble and issued a warning. The traffic stop was then prolonged when Struble asked to let a drug dog sniff around the car. Rodriguez refused, and Struble called for back up.
The Hill reported that while the entire traffic stop lasted less than 30 minutes, the dog did detect drugs in Rodriguez’ vehicle, and he was indicted for possessing methamphetamine.
According to the Supreme Court’s ruling, an officer’s mission during a traffic stop should include deciding whether or not to issue a traffic ticket, checking the driver’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof of insurance, and because it does not have the same “close connection to roadway safety as the ordinary inquiries,” letting a drug dog sniff the vehicle “is not fairly characterized as part of the officer’s traffic mission.”
Justice Clarence Thomas was one of the three who disagreed with the ruling, and in his dissenting opinion, he said that the ruling takes a view on the Fourth Amendment that “makes little sense,” because it states that Struble “committed a constitutional violation” when he “made Rodriguez wait for seven or eight extra minutes until a dog arrived.”
“Had Officer Struble arrested, handcuffed, and taken Rodriguez to the police station for his traffic violation, he would have complied with the Fourth Amendment,” Thomas wrote.
Reason.com noted that Justice Sonia Sotomayor “previewed the Court’s skepticism towards the police officer’s approach” during an oral argument in the case in Jan. 2015.
“We can’t keep bending the Fourth Amendment to the resources of law enforcement,” Sotomayor said. “Particularly when this stop is not incidental to the purpose of the stop. It’s purely to help the police get more criminals, yes. But then the Fourth Amendment becomes a useless piece of paper.”