In another show of strange bedfellow bipartisanship on criminal justice issues, the Supreme Court issued an opinion last week that protects a defendant’s constitutional rights during traffic stops.
The case, Rodriguez v. United States, concerns a defendant and passenger in Nebraska who were stopped by police after he drove onto the shoulder. Through the course of a few minutes, the officer took documentation from the defendant, went to his patrol car to check for warrants, returned to the defendant’s car, expressed his intention to issue a warning, returned again to the patrol car, called a second officer to the scene, then walked back to the defendant’s vehicle to ask if he could run a drug dog around the vehicle (the officer was in a K-9 unit and had a dog in the patrol car ready to go). When the defendant refused the officer’s request, the officer instructed him and his passenger to exit the vehicle, then walked the dog around the vehicle twice. On the second pass the dog alerted to contraband.
Relying on a line of Eight Circuit cases holding that an officer can “incrementally” increase the length of a traffic stop since the “de minimus” intrusion is outweighed by a legitimate public interest of pursing a separate, unrelated investigation, the magistrate judge denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the results of the drug sniff. Adhering to the same precedent, the district court and appellate courts affirmed.