New Limits on Police Power: Traffic Stops Cannot Be Prolonged

Dennis F. Dwyer is a seasoned Chicago criminal defense attorney committed to protecting the rights of his clients.  His extensive experience with DUI law allows him to provide his clients with the best DUI representation in Cook County.

A Supreme Court decision made in April, 2015 limits the amount of time that police can keep cars detained during a traffic stop. The ruling determined that unless there is reasonable suspicion, a police officer cannot detain a car beyond the time it takes to complete a normal traffic stop, including completing background checks and issuing a citation. According to the decision, the officer must allow the driver to leave as soon as the purpose of the stop has concluded. Prolonged stops were found to be a violation of fourth amendment rights.

The Case

The justices ruled 6-3 on the case Rodriguez v. The United States. A Nebraska police officer waited 7 to 8 minutes between issuing a written warning and walking a drug sniffing dog around the car. Apparently the officer had a hunch and asked the driver if he could bring a canine around the vehicle. When the driver declined, the officer called for backup and had a canine brought to sniff around the car. The dog found a bag of methamphetamine. While waiting for the dog, the officer completed all paperwork. Though the purpose of the stop was complete, the motorist was not free to leave while waiting for the backup to arrive.

Stops Cannot Last Longer Than Necessary

In the past, lower courts had concluded that a wait of less than 10 minutes did not violate the fourth amendment which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. The Supreme Court decision, however, concluded that the stop cannot last longer than necessary to complete its purpose. Ginsburg wrote, “the critical question is not whether the dog sniff occurs before or after the officer issues a ticket, but whether conducting the sniff adds time to the stop.”

Consequences of New Ruling

Officials in law enforcement worry about the effect this new ruling will have for officers. Though it will not be encouraged, they worry that officers will actually delay the amount of time it takes to do the regular stop so that backup can arrive. Additionally they worry that officers will choose expediency over safety.

In the dissent, Justice Samuel Alito, voices the concerns spoken by law enforcement. He wrote, “Office Struble’s error—apparently—was following prudent procedures motivated by legitimate safety concerns.”

Original Case Not Finished

Despite this ruling, the case is not closed. This ruling only determined whether it is okay to keep a driver detained beyond the scope of the moving violation. The decision about whether the officer had reasonable suspicion to conduct the search remains in the Eighth Circuit.

What This Means For You

While it is unknown how this will impact the reality of future traffic stops, it does emphasize the importance of contacting an attorney any time you are arrested. An experienced attorney can review the events of the traffic stop and determine whether a violation of your fourth amendment rights may have occurred and whether it is worth pursuing in court. If you are worried that your fourth amendment rights have been violated, contact a Chicago Defense Lawyer right away. Chicago Defense Attorney Dennis F. Dwyer has the knowledge and experience necessary to defend any criminal charges. Contact his office today so that he can review your case.

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