U.S. Supreme Court forbids police from prolonging traffic stops

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police cannot extend traffic stops in order to carry out drug-sniffing dog inspections.

Recent ruling says police cannot extend stops in order to wait for sniffer dogs

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police are not allowed to prolong traffic stops in order to wait for a drug-sniffing dog, according to the New York Times. The court ruled that prolonging the traffic stop without there being reasonable suspicion that another offense had been committed was an example of unreasonable search and seizure. The case concerns a Nebraska man who was stopped by police for swerving onto the shoulder of the road and eventually arrested for drug possession despite not consenting to a drug-sniffing dog inspecting his vehicle.

Traffic stop

According to the Lincoln Journal Star, the case began in 2012 when a man was stopped by police in Nebraska who observed him swerving onto the shoulder of the road. The driver claimed he swerved in order to avoid a pothole.

After issuing the man with a warning ticket, the officer then asked if a drug-sniffing dog could inspect the vehicle. The man refused, but the officer, after waiting for a second officer to arrive, carried out the inspection anyway. Eventually, the dog found methamphetamine in the vehicle and the driver was charged with drug possession.

Unreasonable seizure

The case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The defendant argued that the search of his vehicle was illegal since the original purpose of the traffic stop had already been completed. Furthermore, the defendant's attorney claimed there was no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity that would have justified the driver being detained beyond the traffic violation being issued.

In a six-to-three decision, the Supreme Court agreed and ruled that police cannot prolong traffic stops beyond the time needed to handle the traffic stop itself. While police are permitted to "conduct certain unrelated checks" during the stop itself, they cannot extend the traffic stop in order to do so, except in cases where an officer has reason to believe a crime has been committed. Experts say the case clarifies restrictions for police officers across the country on what they legally can and cannot do during traffic stops.

Criminal defense

Facing a criminal charge of any sort, whether it is for a traffic violation or a drug crime, should always be taken seriously. Being convicted of an offense can lead to more than just jail time, it can also mean a criminal record that can make getting a job, going to college, or maintaining one's livelihood extremely difficult.

A criminal defense attorney can help defend the rights of anybody facing a criminal charge. As the above story shows, defending the constitutional rights of the accused is a pillar of the criminal justice system and one that an experienced attorney can help any defendant uphold.

Keywords: stop, arrest, search, seizure