The Lawletter Vol 41 No 4
In Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), the U.S. Supreme Court recently stressed that a seizure justified only by a police-observed traffic violation becomes unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the mission of issuing a ticket for the violation. The stop may not exceed the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made. In Rodriguez, the issue was raised in the context of whether the police unnecessarily extended the traffic-violation stop to conduct a dog sniff of the exterior of the vehicle for drugs.
Lower courts applying Rodriguez have had the difficult task of determining whether a vehicle stop for a traffic violation was unnecessarily and unlawfully prolonged by police so that they could pursue unrelated suspicions, usually related to illegal drugs. While the courts often observe that there is no rigid time limit for determining when a detention has lasted longer than necessary to effectuate the purposes of the stop, they nevertheless often look to the total time of the stop and the length of what is deemed the unnecessary delay in determining whether the police conduct was lawful. In State v. Linze, No. 42321, 2016 WL 90669 (Idaho Ct. App. Jan. 8, 2016), the court held that where the police extended a routine traffic stop (that lasted 19 minutes) by only approximately another two and a half minutes to conduct a dog sniff (or canine sweep) of the vehicle, such delay was unlawful and violated the driver's Fourth Amendment rights. The court therefore ruled that the illegal drugs subsequently seized from the vehicle after the drug dog alerted on the vehicle during the canine sweep had to be suppressed.