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Traffic Stops and Dog Sniffs

The U.S. Supreme Court today decided Rodriguez v. United States, No. 13-9972:

In Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U. S. 405 (2005), this Court held that a dog sniff conducted during a lawful traffic stop does not violate the Fourth Amendment's proscription of unreasonable seizures. This case presents the question whether the Fourth Amendment tolerates a dog sniff conducted after completion of a traffic stop. We hold that 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. A seizure justified only by a police-observed traffic violation, therefore, "become[s] unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete th[e] mission" of issuing a ticket for the violation. Id., at 407.
Justice Ginsburg wrote the opinion.  Justice Thomas dissented, joined by Justices Kennedy and Alito.

The "only" in the last sentence is disputed in this case and remains open.  The government contends that the officer did have an individualized basis for suspicion that the car contained drugs.  Justices Thomas and Alito would affirm on that basis.  Justice Kennedy agrees with the majority that the point is not properly before the Supreme Court because the Court of Appeals did not decide it.

Although the issue discussed in that Part [of Justice Thomas's dissent] was argued here, the Court of Appeals has not addressed that aspect of the case in any detail. In my view the better course would be to allow that court to do so in the first instance.
Justice Ginsburg's opinion for the Court says,

The Court of Appeals, however, did not review that determination. But see post, at 1, 10-12 (THOMAS, J., dissenting) (resolving the issue, nevermind that the Court of Appeals left it unaddressed); post, at 1-2 (ALITO, J., dissenting) (upbraiding the Court for addressing the sole issue decided by the Court of Appeals and characterizing the Court's answer as "unnecessary" because the Court, instead, should have decided an issue the Court of Appeals did not decide). The question whether reasonable suspicion of criminal activity justified detaining Rodriguez beyond completion of the traffic infraction investigation, therefore, remains open for Eighth Circuit consideration on remand.
I don't believe I have ever seen "nevermind" as a single word in a court opinion before.  Wonder if it will still be there when the "preliminary print" comes out in three or four years.

Update:  Never mind.  As Paul points out in the comments, Justice Ginsburg has used this word in dissents before.  The first of these, Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. ___ (2011), will be out in the preliminary print soon, and we will see.


I'm glad this question wasn't on my crim pro final. I don't see what privacy interest has in the odors emitting from their car or body for that matter.

Nevermind that Justice Ginsburg likes "nevermind." (Kentucky v. King, 131 S.Ct. 1849, 1864 (2011) (GINSBURG, J., dissenting); Fernandez v. California, 134 S.Ct. 1126, 1139 (2014) (GINSBURG, J., dissenting)).

Justice Alito's penultimate paragraph hits the nail on the head regarding the real-world impact of the majority's wishy-washy rule.

Here is the paragraph Paul refers to:

The rule that the Court adopts will do little good going forward.[fn 2] It is unlikely to have any appreciable effect on the length of future traffic stops. Most officers will learn the prescribed sequence of events even if they cannot fathom the reason for that requirement. (I would love to be the proverbial fly on the wall when police instructors teach this rule to officers who make traffic stops.)


2. It is important to note that the Court’s decision does not affect procedures routinely carried out during traffic stops, including “checking the driver’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof of insurance.” Ante, at 6. And the Court reaffirms that police “may conduct certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful traffic stop.” Ibid. Thus, it remains true that police may ask questions aimed at uncovering other criminal conduct and may order occupants out of their car during a valid stop. See Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U. S. 323, 333 (2009); Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U. S. 408, 414–415 (1997); Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U. S. 106, 111 (1977) (per curiam).

I agree that the decision will not have much "real world" effect.

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