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Ken Tableman Law Blog

Search and Seizure -- How long can the police detain me for a traffic violation?

Last month the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Rodriguez v. United States, No. 13-9972. The issue is whether an officer may extend an already completed traffic stop for a canine sniff without reasonable suspicion or other lawful justification. The government argues for a rule that would permit delaying the release of a citizen after writing a traffice ticket to allow for a canine sniff, even though it may take some time for the dog to get to the scene. The government points to cases that have upheld police questioning and even canine sniffs, not strictly related to the traffic stop, so long as the traffic stop itself is not extended. See Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405 (2005). 

Search and seizure issues implicate the Fourth Amendment with its requirement of reasonableness. The Amendment is a check on official conduct. Viewed in that light, it seems that a bright line rule prohibiting suspicionless extension of traffic stops is in order, even if it makes officer's job a bit harder. Unless the officer has an objective reasonable basis to detain someone, he violates the Fourth Amendment if he prolongs the stop to get more information. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 655 (1979).

But who knows what the Court will say? Not too long ago the Court said that an officer's mistake of law, if reasonable, could provide reasonable suspicion to stop someone under the Fourth Amendment.  Heier v. North Carolina, 135 S. Ct. 530 (2014). The Court should decide the case by June.




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