In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police officers can’t extend a stop beyond the time needed to complete the tasks required for the initial traffic violation. Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated that after the officer gets the driver’s information, runs a records check, and issues a citation (if necessary), the stop is completed. Any tasks performed after that violate a person’s Fourth Amendment rights, which protects them from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The decision came as a result of a case that involved an officer walking a drug-sniffing dog around a Nebraska man’s car after he was pulled over. The officer initiated the stop when he observed the man veer onto the shoulder of a highway and then move quickly back onto the road. After questioning the man and his passenger, the officer issued a written warning and then asked the driver if he could have his dog sniff around the vehicle.
Although the driver refused, the officer made him wait an additional 7 to 8 minutes for backup to arrive. Once a second officer was on the scene, the original officer circled the vehicle twice with his drug-sniffing dog, which led the officers to a bag of methamphetamine.
The justices voted 6 to 3 that the stop was illegal.
At his original trial, the driver moved to have the drugs suppressed as evidence, but, referring to a 2005 case, the court stated that the officer did not violate the driver’s rights by prolonging the stop.
Justice Ginsburg said that the 2005 case allowed for additional investigations during a traffic stop but did not allow for it to be extended beyond the completion of the reason for the stop.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Anthony Kennedy argued that prolonging a stop to investigate other violations does not infringe upon a person’s rights. They said 30 minutes, which is how long the driver was stopped for, was a reasonable amount of time for a traffic stop.
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