WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court said Tuesday that police may not extend an ordinary traffic stop to seek evidence of crimes unrelated to the offense that prompted officers to pull a vehicle over.
The justices voted 6-3 in favor of a driver who was found to have methamphetamine in his car. Dennys Rodriguez was issued a warning for driving on the shoulder of a Nebraska highway and then made to wait less than 10 minutes for officers to walk a drug-sniffing dog around the car. The dog alerted and a search of the vehicle turned up the drugs.
But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her majority opinion that prolonging the traffic stop beyond the time needed to deal with the initial offense was improper, even if only for a few minutes.
Police may typically inspect a driver's license, ask for the registration and proof of insurance and check for outstanding warrants because they all are aimed at ensuring that vehicles are operated safely, Ginsburg said.
"A dog sniff, unlike those stock inquiries, lacks the same tie to roadway safety," she said.
Ginsburg also swatted away arguments that the total duration of the stop was reasonable.
The precise amount of time involved is unimportant, she said. "A traffic stop becomes unlawful if prolonged beyond the time in fact needed to complete all traffic-based inquiries," Ginsburg said.
It's important to note that this doesn't mean the police can never send for a dog. They just can't do it without a reason to suspect that there are drugs in the car (I'm not yet sure what the standard would be here, can someone help me out?)
Also important: the police don't have to let you know when you're free to go. But if you are free to go and they say you aren't, then they are also likely to be impermissibly extending the duration of the stop.
Still, this is a major victory for privacy! Privacy rights have been so eroded by the Supreme Court over the years, so this is pretty exciting.
Traffic stops are the number one point of contact between the public and law enforcement.
Edited by Sidestreet, 23 April 2015 - 03:20 PM.