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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.



Brian L. Polinske
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