When can police use drug dogs?

A drug dog can be used during a lawful traffic stop so long as it does not prolong the stop.  The reasoning behind this is that a sniff around the outside of your vehicle is not a “search” for Fourth Amendment purposes so there is no warrant requirement (not the case for your home).

However, the Fourth Amendment provides limitations not just for unlawful searches but also just as importantly, limitations on unlawful seizures (detention).  This is where the use of drug dogs can violate the Fourth Amendment.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case where police used a drug dog after a traffic stop was completed and there was no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.  See U.S. v. Rodriguez.

How long can a traffic stop be delayed?

Many courts have tried to answer this question with varying degrees of time limitations.  Many may be asking why are police allowed to detain you at all, for any amount of time, of they have completed the traffic stop and there is no reasonable suspicion to keep you any longer.  That is a great question and one that the courts have crafted out a judicially created rule called “de minimis” meaning police can detain you for a de minimus amount of time.

How long is a “de minimis” amount of time?

Nebraska has said that 8 minutes is not too long. U.S. v. Rodriguez.

Arkansas has said that 4 minute was not too long. U.S. v. Alexandria

South Dakota has said that 2 minute delay not too long. U.S. v. Martin

Nevada said that 9 minutes went to far and was too long. State v. Beckman

Why should we care?

If the Court puts a stop to this practice and tell police they can’t extend traffic stops once the purpose of the stop is complete then police dogs will only be used when they are right there at the time of the initial stop.  However, more troubling, if the Court gives the green light to this practice then every single traffic stop will be subject to an extended detention for a drug dog to sniff whenever police want to, and that seems problematic and an erosion of the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been hesitant to place any kind of time limits when it comes to Fourth Amendment search and seizure issues.  Because of this hesitation, the confusion between the police and citizen encounter will continue unless there is a bright line rule that makes that limitation clear for all to follow, law enforcement and citizens alike.  I believe that the court should abandon the “de minimis” doctrine and strike a bright line rule that adheres to the principles of the Fourth Amendment that without reasonable suspicion that a person is involved in criminal activity, they are free to leave and go about there business.  It shouldn’t depend on the ability to bring in so-called enhanced detection tools, such as dogs, to continue an investigation based on mere suspicion or hunches.  This not only benefits our right to be free but also will help police by providing them the knowledge of what their limitations are.

Charleston Criminal Defense Attorney

Keep checking in to see the follow-up to this case and learn what the Court does to resolve the issue.  If you have a search and seizure issue in your case call an experienced and trusted Charleston criminal defense lawyer at the Dale Savage Law Firm today for a free case consultation (843) 530-7813.

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