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How Long Can an Officer Detain an Individual Following a Traffic Stop?
Mr. Rodriguez was stopped by a police officer following a traffic violation. The officer then gave a written warning for the stop. The office detained Mr. Rodriguez further awaiting a K9 to arrive on scene to perform a sniff search. The K9 reacted positively and a nonconsensual search of the vehicle revealed illicit drugs.
The SCOTUS ruled that any prolonged detention after the time when a motorist should have been issued a citation or warning is impermissble under the Fourth Amendment. The results of the K9 search were properly suppressed. A bright line rule is now in place that applies to all vehicle stop scenarios where a prolonged detention occurs.
This ruling does not affect cases where the K9 arrives prior to the time when the motorist has been issued the paperwork. If the K9 pulls up before the time when he should have been allowed to leave the K9 sniff search will still be permitted.
The reason this case is important is due to the multitude of cases that had allowed what was called "de minimus" detentions. That meant the officers could cause a motorist to wait until a K9 arrived on scene even if it was after the time when the paperwork had been completed for the underlying traffic violation. The cases ranged from 3 to 22 minutes being a proper time frame under which detention of a motorist was proper. The cases were not uniform and it was difficult and confusing to advise clients based upon the precedent that existed.
The actual finding is:
Absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution's shield against unreasonable seizures.
This case practically affects many cases involving drug trafficking. I see this scenario very often. Many times there are delays caused by the arresting agency in order to produce a K9 on scene. I also see a scenario whereby the arresting officer needlessly delays the issuance of a citation in order to allow for the K9 to arrive and perform the sniff search. The best way to avoid that becoming a valid stop is to subpoena all dispatch and communication between the officer and dispatch as well as other officers. That is a great way to prove when the K9 was summoned by the arresting officer. It can be used to prove he delayed the issuance of a citation for the sole purpose of allowing the K9 to arrive in a "timely" fashion.
I've been stopped by the police. Now I'm in serious trouble as they found something after they searched my car.
When a person thinks about their constitutional protections from government intrusion the Fourth Amendment typically is the first they think about. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable government searches and seizure of persons and property. These protections are triggered most often when a person is travelling in a vehicle which is stopped by police. The initial stop may have been for some claimed violation of traffic laws. Nowadays as many police departments maintain dash cams it is very easy to objectively determine whether the stop was warranted. A police officer cannot stop a motorist unless he has reasonable suspicion to believe the occupant has violated a law. If the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle the person can successfully claim his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable stop and seizure occured. If the court agrees any evidence seized against that person from that point forward may be suppressed by the exclusionary rule ("fruit of the poisonous tree"). So, in that case, filing a motion to suppress evidence would be the proper method to attack the allegedly unconstitutional stop. Next, if the officer searches the vehicle without consent or probable cause (or a warrant) the motorist can attack the search as violative of their Fourth Amendment rights. Other means to bar evidence from trial via a motion to suppress arise when the police officer unlawfully detains a motorist after the point in time where he should have released him with a citation. Many times officers will intentionally delay release of the motorist until a K9 can perform a sniff search of the car. Again, this unlawful delay can cause the judge to issue a suppression order for any items discovered in the vehicle.
The best advice a criminal target can comply with is:
Don't talk to the police more than is absolutely necessary.
Request an attorney if you believe you may be in serious criminal trouble.
Don't consent to a search of the vehicle.
Don't act out of the ordinary.
Following those simple steps can aid you in the future should you be charged with a criminal offense.