When a police officer makes a routine traffic stop how long can the officer detain a person before giving a ticket, a warning or letting the person go? The answer to this question is important to local law enforcement officials because an unnecessary prolonged stop can violate a citizens right to be free from unreasonable searches under the United States Constitution. Typically the question of whether or not there has been an unreasonable search comes up in the context of a motion to suppress evidence of a crime.
A recent case decided by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals provides an answer to this question. Since there were two people in the car that the officer stopped the officer called for backup before conducting a search with his dog even though the dog was already at the scene when the stop was made. In a very short and concise opinion the Eighth Circuit articulates the rules that apply with respect to use of a dog to assist in a search when a vehicle has been stopped for a traffic violation holding that a delay of 7 to 8 minutes was constitutional.
“[A] dog sniff conducted during a traffic stop that is ‘lawful at its inception and otherwise executed in a reasonable manner’ does not infringe upon a constitutionally protected interest in privacy.” We have held that once an “officer decides to let a routine traffic offender depart with a ticket, a warning, or an all clear[,] … the Fourth Amendment applies to limit any subsequent detention or search.” Accordingly, a dog sniff may be the product of an unconstitutional seizure, “if the traffic stop is unreasonably prolonged before the dog is employed.” A brief delay to employ a dog does not unreasonably prolong the stop, however, and we have repeatedly upheld dog sniffs that were conducted minutes after the traffic stop concluded (four-minute delay upheld as a de minimis intrusion on personal liberty); Martin, 411 F.3d at 1002 (two-minute delay upheld); (delay of “well under ten minutes” upheld); (two-minute delay upheld).”
For additional discussion concerning use of police dogs and the right to sniff click here for.
Howard Wright @2014