Ruling to give police less power over traffic stops - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Ruling to give police less power over traffic stops

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Washington (WQOW) - The Supreme Court said Tuesday that police may not extend an ordinary traffic stop to seek evidence of crimes unrelated to the offense that prompted officers to pull a vehicle over.

An officer's loyal companion may have a good sniffer, but its nose can't be used for just any reason anymore.

“If it's because how we look, our race, our bumper stickers, those are things which are not a basis to go summon the drug dog,” said Harry Hertel, President and Attorney at Hertel Law, S.C.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court said police can no longer extend an ordinary traffic stop to seek evidence of crime, which happened to a man from Nebraska. He was pulled over for driving on the shoulder, then made to wait until a drug-sniffing dog arrived. Ultimately, he was caught with methamphetamine in his car.

“But the officer says, 'well, I want you to stick around I'm not going to let you go because I've got a drug dog coming and I think I might find something.' The reality is that that person has been seized with no probable cause, no arrest warrant, nothing from a judge saying keep this guy,” said Hertel.

Supreme Court justices voted 6 to 3 in favor of the Nebraska driver. But he may not be free from legal trouble. It is possible the police had a reason to believe he was dealing drugs.

“Probable cause is more than just a hunch, it's less than beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Hertel.

“Maybe they went like this or like this or had blood shot eyes. Or you thought you smelled something but you weren't for sure. That in of itself, one thing by itself is not, it's an accumulation of all those facts together,” said Lieutenant David Livingston of Altoona Police Department.

The Altoona Police Department says the ruling doesn't change the way they've been using their dog, but it is another bone to throw on the pile.

“It is harder to do our job as law officers today, because of the changes of the different laws that are coming into effect,” said Livingston.

Police typically take a look at your driver's license, ask for registration and proof of insurance and check for outstanding warrants, all things aimed at making sure vehicles are operated safely. In her majority opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, "A dog sniff, unlike those stock inquiries, lacks the same tie to roadway safety."


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Washington (AP) - The Supreme Court said Tuesday that police may not extend an ordinary traffic stop to seek evidence of crimes unrelated to the offense that prompted officers to pull a vehicle over.

The justices voted 6-3 in favor of a driver who was found to have methamphetamine in his car. Dennys Rodriguez was issued a warning for driving on the shoulder of a Nebraska highway and then made to wait less than 10 minutes for officers to walk a drug-sniffing dog around the car. The dog alerted and a search of the vehicle turned up the drugs.

But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her majority opinion that prolonging the traffic stop beyond the time needed to deal with the initial offense was improper, even if only for a few minutes.

Police may typically inspect a driver's license, ask for the registration and proof of insurance and check for outstanding warrants because they all are aimed at ensuring that vehicles are operated safely, Ginsburg said.

"A dog sniff, unlike those stock inquiries, lacks the same tie to roadway safety," she said.

Ginsburg also swatted away arguments that the total duration of the stop was reasonable.

The precise amount of time involved is unimportant, she said. "A traffic stop becomes unlawful if prolonged beyond the time in fact needed to complete all traffic-based inquiries," Ginsburg said.

Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Rodriguez won at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, but he may not be free of legal trouble. It is possible that the police had a reasonable basis, independent of the traffic stop, to suspect that Rodriguez was engaged in drug dealing, Ginsburg said. Lower courts now will consider that issue.

Alito called Tuesday's decision "unnecessary, impractical and arbitrary" because the officer did have reasonable suspicion that the car contained drugs.



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