Unlawful Vehicle Search In New Jersey?
On April 21, 2015, The United States Supreme Court ruled that the police cannot extend a traffic stop to conduct a dog sniff of a vehicle without reasonable suspicion. In the case of Rodriguez v. United States, the Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether or not the police can extend a traffic stop of an individual to include bringing a drug sniffing dog to the scene without a reasonable suspicion that drugs are present or drug activity is taking place. In the Rodriguez case, the Police Officer Struble from the Valley, Nebraska Police Department, had stopped a vehicle being driven by Dennys Rodriguez for swerving his vehicle onto the shoulder of the roadway. Mr. Rodriguez advised he had swerved to avoid hitting a pothole. Officer Struble returned to his police vehicle to issue a warning ticket to Mr. Rodriguez for driving on the shoulder of the highway. A few minutes later, Officer Struble returned to Mr. Rodriguez’ vehicle and handed him the warning. Although the “traffic stop” was, for all intents and purposes, completed, Officer Struble then asked Mr. Rodriguez for permission to walk his K-9 drug sniffing dog around the vehicle. Mr. Rodriguez advised the officer he did not want the officer to walk the dog around his vehicle. At that point, Officer Struble instructed Mr. Rodriguez to shut off his ignition, exit the vehicle and stand in front of it. Officer Struble then retrieved his K-9 and walked it twice around Mr. Rodriguez’ vehicle. Halfway through the second pass around the vehicle, the K-9 alerted to the presence of drugs. Approximately eight minutes had passed from the time of the issuance of the traffic warning and the alert to the presence of drugs by the K-9. A search of the vehicle revealed a large bag of methamphetamine.
Mr. Rodriguez filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized in this case arguing that no “reasonable suspicion” existed supported the detention of Mr. Rodriguez once the traffic warning had been issued. The motion to suppress was denied even though the Magistrate Court ruled that no reasonable suspicion existed at the time of the stop. The Court ruled that the time period of eight minutes to conduct the K-9 sniff around the vehicle was only a “de minimis” intrusion on Mr. Rodriguez’ Fourth Amendment rights and was, therefore, permissible. Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court considered this case and reversed the lower court decisions. The United States Supreme Court ruled that “absent reasonable suspicion” the police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a drug dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable search and seizures.
If you or a loved one feel you have been subject to an unlawful vehicle search during the course of a motor vehicle stop then do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Thomas V. Campo today at 732-691-3427 for a free consultation.