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Are K-9 Searches (Dog Sniffs) Legal During a Routine Traffic Stop?

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  • Joyner Law Firm, P.C.
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  • April 27, 2015

Are K-9 Searches (Dog Sniffs) Legal During a Routine Traffic Stop?

As usual with Fourth Amendment questions, it depends.  The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) held in 2005 in the case of Illinois v. Caballes, that police may conduct a search using a drug-sniffing dog during a routine traffic stop as long as the search does not unreasonably prolong the length of the stop.  The length of time of the stop may not exceed the time necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop.  For example, you are pulled for speeding.  It is reasonable for the officer to approach your car, ask for drivers license and registration, return to his car, run your tags, write the ticket, return to your car, explain the ticket, and return your license and registration.  There is no set amount of time that this set of events must cover.  The court has simply ruled that it must be a reasonable amount of time.  What constitutes a reasonable amount of time is something that is determined on a case by case basis.

Recently, in Rodriguez v. U.S., the SCOTUS extended the Caballes ruling by holding that the use of a K-9 after the completion of an otherwise lawful traffic stop exceeded the time reasonably required to handle the matter and therefore violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.  Here, officers did not have articulable reasonable suspicion to continue to detain the driver and conduct a search.  This illustrates an extremely important point, the search was illegal because the officers did not have articulable reasonable suspicion.  Absent reasonable suspicion, the only way a search can be legal is if the individual detained consents.  Here, Rodriguez did not consent to the search.  In other words, he did not voluntarily waive his constitutional rights.

As free people, we are empowered by the United States Constitution.  Sovereignty lies not in the majority, but in each and every individual.  Always remember that you have the right to remain silent.  That you have the right to refuse to consent to a search by any government agency.  The best advice:  Never waive any of your rights.

The entire SCOTUS opinion in Rodriguez v. U.S. can be found HERE.

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