The vast majority of us have been pulled over by law enforcement for one reason or another. When stopped by police it is never a good idea to agree to a search of your car, your purse, yourself, your house, or anything else. Some would argue that if a person has nothing to hide then why would they mind a search? This is a dangerous road to go down as it could potentially lead to unrestrained searches by law enforcement anytime they desire. In a recent (2015) decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Rodriguez v. United States, the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, as guaranteed by the United States Constitution, was reinforced.
A police officer pulled over Mr. Rodriguez for a minor traffic violation. After checking Mr. Rodriguez’ license and registration the officer issued Mr. Rodriguez a warning ticket, and then asked Mr. Rodriguez for permission to walk his drug dog around the exterior of the vehicle. Mr. Rodriguez said “No.” Nevertheless, the officer detained Mr. Rodriguez and waited for a backup officer to arrive, and proceeded to have the drug dog sniff the car and drugs were found. Mr. Rodriguez was arrested, charged, and convicted of drug possession.
Prior to the Rodriguez decision any intrusions that were minimal (de minimis) were not Constitutionally prohibited. However, in the Rodriguez case, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction, noting that an officer’s job during traffic stops typically includes only those issues involved in the safe operation of a motor vehicle: “checking for a valid operator’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof of insurance.” Once the purpose of the stop is completed any further detention of a motorist is prohibited. The court held a dog sniff is not part of an officer’s “traffic mission,” and thus is prohibited without reasonable suspicion. Unless the officer has a reasonable and fact-based suspicion that further criminal activity is afoot, he may not prolong the stop beyond that time necessary to complete the traffic investigation. In Mr. Rodriguez’ case, the legal traffic stop ended the moment Mr. Rodriguez was handed his warning ticket.
The court also made it clear that it did not matter whether the dog sniff occurred in the middle of the stop or at the end. A valid stop ends and the illegal detention begins either as soon as the investigation concludes, or as soon as it ought to have been concluded, whichever comes first. The officer cannot extend the length of the detention–whether during or after the stop–unless he has additional evidence of a crime. Even if the delay is very brief, any continued detention is considered illegal.
CONTACT AN ATTORNEY
A criminal conviction can have a drastic impact on your career, your family, and your life. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a prohibited search during a traffic stop in Utah, contact the attorneys at Hepworth, Murray & Associates. Their experienced criminal defense attorneys can sit down with you for a free 30-minute consult to go over the options you have.