Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of Rodriguez v. State, a case involving the length of detention following traffic stops. Generally speaking, If the length of the investigative detention goes beyond the time necessary to reasonably effectuate the reason for the stop, the Fourth Amendment requires reasonable suspicion the person stopped has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime.[1] In Rodriguez, the Supreme Court will decide whether an officer may extend an already completed traffic stop for a canine sniff without reasonable suspicion or other lawful justification. Specifically, the Petition for Writ of Certiorari filed by the defendant posed the following question:

This Court has held that, during an otherwise lawful traffic stop, asking a driver to exit a vehicle, conducting a drug sniff with a trained canine, or asking a few off-topic questions are “de minimis” intrusions on personal liberty that do not require reasonable suspicion of criminal activity in order to comport with the Fourth Amendment. This case poses the question of whether the same rule applies after the conclusion of the traffic stop, so that an officer may extend the already-completed stop for a canine sniff without reasonable suspicion or other lawful justification.

According to the Washington Post, the attorney for the government argued for a standard of reasonableness that would give the government a reasonable extension of time for dog sniffs. The government argument suggested that officers should have the discretion to time a dog sniff at the beginning or the end of a traffic stop; in effect, an officer shouldn’t be penalized for bringing the dogs over at the end rather than the beginning.

However, the Justices did not appear to be moved by the government’s argument in this regard. Justice Sotomayor made the following statement during the government’s response:

“I have a real fundamental question, because this line drawing is only here because we’ve now created a Fourth Amendment entitlement to search for drugs using dogs, whenever anybody’s stopped. Because that’s what you’re proposing. And is that really what the Fourth Amendment should permit?…we can’t keep bending the Fourth Amendment to the resources of law enforcement. Particularly when this stop is not—is not incidental to the purpose of the stop. It’s purely to help the police get more criminals, yes. But then the Fourth Amendment becomes a useless piece of paper.”

While the question posed by the case seems narrow at first blush, a SCOTUS decision in support of the government’s argument could have far reaching consequences.  Of course, there are situations where officers are permitted to stop individuals and conduct an investigatory detention, such as Terry stops. However, the Terry rationale requires specific and articulable facts amounting to reasonable suspicion of a crime occurring, before the stop can occur on that basis. A decision against Rodriguez could equate to prolonged investigatory stops with no reasonable suspicion or other lawful justification.

If you have questions regarding investigative detention, contact our experienced Tulsa criminal defense lawyer for an honest assessment of your case.

[1] Seabolt v State, 152 P.3d 235 (Okla. Crim. App. 2006).