Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Rodriguez v. United States: The Supreme Court Keeps the Fourth Amendment from “Going to the Dogs”

Last week, the United States Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether police officers may detain a driver of a vehicle for a short period of time in order to await the arrival of drug-sniffing dogs, after all of the lawful purposes of the traffic stop have been concluded, when the officer has no reasonable suspicion of any additional criminal activity.

In Rodriguez, an officer executed a traffic stop because the defendant was driving on a highway shoulder. After the stop was in effect, the officer attended to all issues regarding the stop, including confirming the validity of both the driver’s and passengers’ driver’s licenses. The officer also issued a warning for the traffic offense. Once the warnings were issued, the officer asked the driver for permission to walk a drug-sniffing dog around the vehicle. The defendant subsequently refused, resulting in the officer detaining him until a second officer arrived several minutes later with the drug-sniffing dog. Thereafter, the dog indicated the presence of drugs, and the subsequent search revealed methamphetamine.

The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to quash the search. In reversing the Court of Appeals, however, the Supreme Court in Rodriguez held that absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a drug sniff violates the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment shield against unreasonable searches. In Rodriguez, the Court refused to allow for the extension of the duration of a routine traffic stop after all of the purposes of the traffic stop had been completed absent specific articulable facts which established a reasonable suspicion of further evidence of criminal activity that would justify the detention and drug sniff. In so doing, the court confirmed the validity of Illinois v. Caballes, which held that the use of a drug sniffing dog during the course of a legal stop even without additional articulable circumstances of criminal activity is valid.

As a result of the Rodriguez opinion, officers are given more clarity as to when and under what circumstances drug-sniffing dogs may be utilized during a routine traffic stop. In this regard, the Court in Rodriguez provides the following direction to law enforcement officers:

  • That use of a drug-sniffing dog during the course of a legal traffic stop remains valid;
  • That the officer must be able to identify and present additional, specific articulable facts which would establish reasonable suspicion of additional criminal activity if the officer chooses to detain the driver of a motor vehicle after the initial purpose of the traffic stop has concluded; and
  • Even a continued detention of a short duration (de minimis intrusion) while waiting for the drug-sniffing dog after the purpose of a traffic stop has concluded without additional facts of other criminal activity violates the Fourth Amendment and will render a subsequent search inadmissible.

As a result of Rodriguez, arresting officers should be extra observant and be able to identify the specific, objective, articulable facts which would justify continued detention after the conclusion of the purpose of the traffic stop if they suspect the driver has evidence of criminal activity in the car and wish to utilize the services of drug-sniffing dog.


Anthony J. Sassan

Author: Anthony J. Sassan