The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that it is unconstitutional for police to hold suspects during traffic stops without probable cause.
“A police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority, after a 6-3 vote.
The ruling means police officers can no longer force a stopped driver to wait for a drug-sniffing dog to arrive on the scene to inspect the vehicle. The court found that extending the stop by even a few minutes violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.
The justices noted that an officer who “completes all traffic-related tasks expeditiously” doesn’t earn extra time to pursue an “unrelated criminal investigation.”
“The critical question is not whether the dog sniff occurs before or after the officer issues a ticket,” the court added, “but whether conducting the sniff adds time to the stop.”
The case, Rodriguez v. United States, arrived at the high court after a man was pulled over in Nebraska and issued a citation for erratic driving. A police officer forced him to wait “seven or eight minutes” until another officer walked a drug dog around his vehicle.
Rodriguez was found to be in possession of methamphetamine; however, the Supreme Court ruled that the search of his car was illegal, therefore the evidence gathered against him is inadmissible at trial.
Police officers could, feasibly, continue using drug-sniffing dogs during traffic stops, provided the search doesn’t take any additional time.