Police Can’t Extend Stop for Dog Sniff, U.S. Supreme Court Says

Colorado Springs Police Officer Andrew Genta and his dog Vader, a Belgian Malinois, demonstrate a narcotic search on a vehicle in Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 12, 2013.

Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg

Police officers violate the Constitution when they extend an otherwise completed traffic stop to allow time for a trained dog to sniff for drugs, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.

The justices, voting 6-3, said that officers must let the driver leave unless they have specific reasons to suspect the car is carrying contraband.

Police authority “ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are -- or reasonably should have been -- completed,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority.

The ruling is a victory for Dennys Rodriguez, who was facing a five-year prison sentence for carrying a bag of methamphetamine in his car in 2012.

Rodriguez was stopped on a Nebraska highway for driving out of his lane and made to wait an additional seven or eight minutes for a drug-sniffing dog after he had received a warning ticket for the traffic violation.

The high court said a decade ago that police can conduct a dog sniff during a traffic stop without running afoul of the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. The latest case tested whether officers could continue detaining a car while waiting for a trained dog to arrive.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy dissented. Writing for the group, Thomas said Ginsburg’s reasoning would link the constitutionality of a drug sniff to the officer’s efficiency in completing the traffic stop.

Seatbelt Arrest

Thomas also said the officer could have arrested Rodriguez and taken him to the police station just on the basis of the traffic violation. He pointed to a 2001 Supreme Court decision allowing arrests for the criminal offense of failing to wear a seatbelt.

“But because he made Rodriguez wait for seven or eight extra minutes until a dog arrived, he evidently committed a constitutional violation,” Thomas wrote. “Such a view of the Fourth Amendment makes little sense.”

The case is Rodriguez v. United States, 13-9972.

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