10/7/2014Supreme Court Investigates Police K-9 Sniffs
US Supreme Court to decide whether a drug dog sniff is invalid if the motorist is forced to wait an excessive amount of time.
Motoring issues are on the US Supreme Court;s agenda this term. On Monday, the justices heard oral arguments in Heien v. North Carolina, weighing the question of whether a traffic stop is invalid if the cop gets the law wrong. Last Thursday, the court also announced it would take up the issue of drug dog sniffs during traffic stops.
In January, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued a four-page decision finding Dennys Rodriguez guilty of having more than 50 grams of methamphetamine in his car. Rodriguez had been stopped around midnight on March 27, 2012 on Highway 275 in Valley, Nebraska. Officer Morgan Struble saw his car briefly swerve onto the shoulder and back.
When he approached from the passenger side of the vehicle, Officer Struble smelled air fresheners and noted the passenger, Scott Pollman, was nervous. Rodriguez and the passenger were quizzed about the purpose of their trip, but Officer Struble was not satisfied by the story that they were going to buy a Ford Mustang in Omaha, so he gave Rodriguez a warning ticket and asked if his drug dog could sniff the vehicle. Rodriguez said no about 19 minutes into the stop.
Rodriguez was then ordered out of the vehicle and told to wait for backup to arrive. At about 29 minutes into the stop, the dog alerted. A subsequent search turned up a bag of meth. Rodriguez moved to have the evidence suppressed because the delay in waiting for the dog was unreasonable, making it a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The three-judge appellate panel disagreed.
"Although the dog was located in the patrol car, Struble waited to employ it until a second officer arrived, explaining that he did so for his safety because there were two persons in Rodriguez's vehicle," the appellate panel ruled. "The resulting seven- or eight-minute delay is similar to the delay that we have found to be reasonable in other circumstances. We thus conclude that it constituted a de minimis intrusion on Rodriguez's personal liberty."
Because Rodriguez cannot afford to pay for a full defense, the Supreme Court waived the customary filing fees in accepting his case.
A copy of the Eighth Circuit decision is available in a 140k PDF file at the source link below.