The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Under the Fourth Amendment, a traffic stop is considered a seizure. The scope and duration of such a seizure must be related to the stop and must last no longer than necessary to effectuate the stop’s purpose. In a 6-3 decision issued yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Nebraska police violated the Fourth Amendment by extending an otherwise lawful traffic stop in order to let a drug-sniffing dog investigate the outside of the vehicle.
According to the majority opinion, “a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.”
While “an officer…may conduct certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful traffic stop,” the Court held, “a dog sniff, unlike the routine measures just mentioned, is not an ordinary incident of a traffic stop.”
The underlying arrest occurred as a result of a 2012 traffic stop of Dennys Rodriguez by a Nebraska police officer who did have his K-9 in the cruiser at the time of the stop. Mr. Rodriguez refused to consent to letting the drug dog walk around the outside of his vehicle. At that time, the Nebraska officer called for back-up, prolonging the stop by an additional eight minutes. The ensuing search of the vehicle
revealed methamphetamine. The defendant appealed claiming the additional eight minutes violated his According to the Court’s holding, those extra minutes violated Rodriguez’s constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment.
Of course, this is not a new issue presented to the Supreme Court or the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. In Seabolt v. State, 152 P.3d 235 (Okla. Crim. App. 2006), the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals held a 25 minute delay was an unreasonable. In that case, the court held that given the totality of the circumstances, a 25 minute delay was an unreasonable detention in violation of the Fourth Amendment– that the officer did not have a reasonable suspicion to prolong the traffic stop.
Whether a traffic stop is too long is very fact-specific question. While situations may be similar, no two are the exact same. Therefore, you should not rely on the case outlined above in place of an opinion from a qualified criminal attorney regarding your specific circumstances.
If you feel you were unreasonably detained, or have questions the validity of a traffic stop, contact our Tulsa criminal defense lawyer for a consultation.