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SCOTUS decides important case regarding vehicle searches, drug-sniffing dogs

The Supreme Court of the United States made headlines earlier this week when it handed down a decision regarding the use of drug-sniffing dogs by law enforcement officials during otherwise routine traffic stops.

The case in question, Rodriguez v. U.S., originated in Nebraska back on March 27, 2012. Here, a police officer pulled a vehicle over after witnessing it rapidly pull onto the shoulder and quickly reenter the roadway.

The driver of the car, the defendant, informed the officer that he had tried to avoid a pothole. The officer proceeded to run a check on the defendant’s insurance, license and registration before issuing him a written traffic warning.

Once the traffic stop was completed, however, the officer asked the defendant for permission to conduct a search of his vehicle with a drug-sniffing dog. The defendant declined, but was nevertheless told that he had to wait until a second officer arrived.

The second officer arrived on the scene roughly five minutes later with a drug-sniffing dog in tow. A sweep around the vehicle’s exterior by the K9 officer resulted in an alert by the police dog. A subsequent search of the vehicle uncovered a significant amount of methamphetamine.

The defendant, who was prosecuted in federal court, sought to have the drug evidence thrown out on the grounds that it violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. Specifically, he argued that the authority for the seizure only extended to the traffic stop, not the additional 7-10 minutes needed for a K9 officer to arrive and conduct a drug sweep.   

The presiding judge, however, found the search was constitutional and the defendant was ultimately sentenced to five years in prison.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, affirming that it was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment for the traffic stop to have been prolonged for the search by the drug-sniffing dog.

We’ll continue to explore this important case in our next post, discussing what SCOTUS ultimately decided in Rodriguez v. U.S., and the rationale for the decision.

If you are facing any sort of drug charges — state or federal — consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible. That way, they can immediately start building a strong case designed to prove your innocence and uncover any misconduct by law enforcement officials. 

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