[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled Tuesday that extending an already completed traffic stop in order to conduct a drug sniff violates the Constitution [text] as an unreasonable seizure. In a 6-3 decision by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the majority held in Rodriguez v. United States [opinion, PDF] that “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.” Dennys Rodriguez, stopped and warned by Officer Morgan Struble for driving on the shoulder, was detained after refusing to consent to a drug sniff following the conclusion of the traffic stop. Upon conducting the sniff, officers found methamphetamine in the vehicle. In deciding the case, the court relied on precedent set in 2005 in Illinois v. Caballes [opinion], in which the court determined that a traffic stop is only warranted as long as it takes to complete the “mission,” in this case to ticket Rodriguez for driving on the shoulder. Any detention beyond that mission constitutes an unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment [text]. The court did not determine if reasonable suspicion would permit an officer to extend an already completed stop. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas noted that the officer had suspicion to subject Rodriguez to a search, and read Cabellas as permitting the action taken in this case. Justice Samuel Alito wrote a separate dissent, stating that the decision was arbitrary and hypothetical, as the officer had reasonable suspicion upon which to base the drug sniff.
The Supreme Court granted certiorari in October and heard arguments [transcript, PDF] in January. The case came to the court after the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] affirmed [opinion, PDF] the determination by the US District Court for the District of Nebraska [official website] that the prolonged stop was a de minimis intrusion upon Rodriguez’s personal liberty, sentencing him to five years in prison.