U.S. Supreme Ct. grants cert. – traffic stop – search after ticket written

USA v. Rodriguez.  In March of 2012, Dennys Rodriguez was pulled over just after midnight on a highway in Nebraska after an officer observed Rodriguez’s vehicle veer slowly onto the shoulder of the highway and then jerk back onto the road.  Officer Morgan Struble initiated a traffic stop at 12:06 p.m. Rodriguez identified himself and told Struble he had veered onto the shoulder because of a pothole.   Struble asked for Rodriguez’s id, registration, etc. and asked Rodriguez to accompany  him to the patrol car.  When Rodriguez asked whether he had to go to the police car, Struble told him he did not and Rodriguez remained in his own vehicle along with his passenger Scott Pollman.

Struble returned to Rodriguez’s vehicle and asked him where they had been.  Pollman explained they had been to Omaha to look at a Ford Mustang for sale.   Struble returned to his patrol car and called for a back up officer.  He issued a written warning to Rodriguez at around 12:27.   Struble then asked for permission to walk his dog around Rodriguez’s vehicle.  Rodriguez denied permission.   At 12:33 a deputy sheriff arrived and Struble walked the dog around the car.  The dog alerted to the presence of drugs.  A search turned up a large bag of methamphetamine. “All told, seven or eight minutes had passed from the time Struble had issued the written warning until the dog indicated the presence of drugs.   USA v. Rodriguez, 741 F.3d 905 (8th Cir. 2014).

Rodriguez entered a conditional guilty plea that allowed him to challenge the search.  The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed finding that the traffic stop was not unreasonably prolonged.  Rodriguez petitioned for cert. which the Court granted on Oct. 2, 2014.

Rodriguez’s cert. petition.

The question presented:

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.

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