By on April 22, 2015


In a 6-3 decision Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police cannot hold motorists beyond what is necessary to conduct routine traffic stops.

The majority opinion in Rodriguez v. United States – penned by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – determined “without additional reasonable suspicion, the officer must allow the seized person to depart once the purpose of the stop has concluded,” Autoblog reports.

The ruling comes from a case between Nebraska police officer Morgan Struble and driver Dennys Rodriguez, the latter pulled over for a routine stop before a drug-sniffing dog was used to find drugs in the vehicle. The issue that led to the Supreme Court’s ruling was the amount of time it took to complete said stop, which would have ended the moment Struble issued the written warning to Rodriguez. Instead, the officer kept the driver stopped until backup arrived to conduct the search.

Though lower courts had ruled that a wait of less than 10 minutes was a minimal intrusion into the driver’s Fourth Amendment rights at worst, the Supreme Court declared that the stop could only last for as long as was needed to conclude the original purpose for the stop.

Law enforcement groups warn the ruling could actually lengthen the time for a given stop or force officers to forego safety to conduct a stop as quickly as possible, a view shared by Justice Samuel Alito in his dissenting opinion. Alito wrote Struble’s apparent mistake “was following prudent procedures motivated by legitimate safety concerns.”

[Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons]

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35 Comments on “Supreme Court Rules Police Cannot Drag Out Traffic Stops...”

  • avatar

    Oh, but they do (drag out traffic stops).

    • 0 avatar

      Especially in New Mexico! Did you read that document illustrating techniques officers could use to extend the stop? Terrible.

      They won’t “let you go” folks. If you don’t know when you can leave, keep asking, and as soon as you get any sign of consent, leave.

      • 0 avatar

        319583076, yes, we live with it every day. Ditto the Border Patrol checkpoints on US54 and US70. They’ll keep asking you questions, keep you talking.

        Southern Arizona is also pretty bad. They’ll keep you talking, ask lotsa questions, all in the name of seeking a reason to take the stop to the next level.

        A lotta people get tripped up because of those “stretched” encounters. Drug busts, illegal alien busts, felony apprehensions, a lady in a minivan trying to flee and getting shot at, you name it, we’ve had them in NM.

        My #2 son was a CHiP for ~12 years and the techniques he was told to use were similar. Most all LE Academies teach the same techniques, as long as they fall within the limits established by the Supreme Court.

        What was a real bell-ringer was when the SCOTUS ruled that when out in public a person does not have the presumption of any privacy. That opened the flood gates!

  • avatar

    What is the difference between God and a Washington State Patrolman?
    God doesn`t think he is a State patrolman.

  • avatar

    ? Can’t the LEO just say ‘ I smelled drugs or alcohol ‘ ? as a probable cause ? .


    • 0 avatar
      Mike N.

      That would be lying, but in my experience unsurprising.

    • 0 avatar

      I only glanced it, but it seems to be an odd case.

      The Supreme Court ruled previously that a dog sniff of a car’s exterior was not a search and therefore not subject to Fourth Amendment protection.

      Here the cop asked the driver for permission for the dog to sniff, which was denied. But the cop didn’t have to ask in the first place. Why he didn’t just do it, I don’t know.

      Ginsberg dissented on that earlier ruling. I suspect that this was her way of whittling away at the earlier decision as much as she could without completely overturning it.

      • 0 avatar


        he probably knew that the k9 ofc was too far away to attempt a sniff before he got his paperwork finished. so he asked if the guy would consent to, essentially, waiting around for a sniff. the driver refused the sniff which meant he refused the wait.

        thus he tried to be clever and get around it by taking his time on the paperwork. thus the ruling…

        • 0 avatar

          The traffic stop was made by a K-9 unit.

          • 0 avatar

            What I read elsewhere yesterday was that the initial stop was not by a K9 unit. The first LEO dragged out the stop until a K9 unit arrived, and the dog signaled drugs. Meth was found. The first LEO tried to claim that the passenger kept acting nervous, and that justified the wait, but 6 of the Supremes didn’t buy it. Mostly I expect that unless the LEO is under the gun to write more tickets, he’ll just drag out the paperwork until either the K9 unit “just happens” to arrive or one of the occupants does something to trigger probable cause.

          • 0 avatar

            It’s in the case. Rodriguez was stopped by Valley (NE) PD officer Morgan Struble, who was accompanied by his dog Floyd.

            The problem here is that it was pretty obvious that Struble tacked on the dog sniff to the end of the stop. He had no particularly good reason for doing that, as he admitted that the reasonable suspicion that had justified the traffic stop had already been addressed prior to the sniff test taking place.

            The cop was either too honest or too dumb for his own good. You can bet that other cops will be trained in how to avoid doing what he did.

  • avatar

    Nate —
    Yes, and it’s done all the time. As is the claim that drugs or paraphernalia were within plain sight. That said, if neither is true and the search only turns up drugs in the trunk, it’s unlikely to stick unless the officer wants to claim they were found in the passenger compartment.

  • avatar

    “the Supreme Court declared that the stop could only last for as long as was needed to conclude the original purpose for the stop.”

    a little confused here but, as usual, I must be misreading this.
    If you get pulled over for a missing tail light, but during the stop the officer suspects something else is going on, or that he/she knows something wrong is going on from something seen ( pipes, roach clip in the ash tray, smoke all through the car, empty bottle under rolls out from under the seat, etc)…the stop cannot proceed past the educated guess of 10 minute stop for the light?

    Something is being lost in translation here.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike N.

      No, if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” or “probable cause” (and the courts are extremely deferential to what constitutes those two things), he can extend the stop, and maybe even search the car without your consent (with probably cause).

      What this case says he can’t do, is after doing all the traffic stop related things, keep you around some additional time just so they can have a dog sniff for something even though there’s no other reason to keep you there, traffic stop related stuff having been completed, even if the delay is “de minimis”.

      • 0 avatar

        How probable cause works to search a car.

        Officer: Do I have your permission to search your vehicle?


        Officer: OK, hands behind your back, I’m going to search your vehicle based on the probably cause by your denial to search your vehicle without a warrant.

        Game. Set. Match.

        • 0 avatar

          I guess the good news there is that any decent lawyer would beat that charge. Still doesn’t make up for the massive inconvenience/humiliation/financial damages of course. I guess if you have any money left afterwards you can sue.

        • 0 avatar
          Sweyn Tyryrsonn

          United States v. Fuentes, as the first example makes a clear precedent that in fact refusal to a search is your constitutional right.

          So, Hands Behind your back. Deal with the short term. Call ACLU. Sue Police Department and Win.

          • 0 avatar

            The case says that refusal to consent to a search does not provide cause or suspicion for a search.

            That does not mean that they can’t search you.

  • avatar

    In other news, it was ruled that your cell phone can be smashed to bits and you tasered and beaten senseless if you try to document a stop being excessive in time and scope, or bring up the SCOTUS decision to law enforcement while on the side of the road.


    It was snark – lighten up.

  • avatar

    I think we are beginning the Hate The Cop decade.
    Nothing but anti cop stuff everywhere…even here, it seems.

    Glad I don’t have to approach a car after a stop…

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe that’s because we’re coming of 2-3 solid decades of Cops Who Are Titanic Dicks.

      What’s that saying? If you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to fear?

      Well, if a cop isn’t a giant constitution-shredding d-bag, I guess he doesn’t have anything to fear from this ruling, eh?

    • 0 avatar

      I worked in a law enforcement support role from about 1998 to 2005, and while I knew some good cops who really were about helping people and exercised good judgement on the streets, I have enough first hand knowledge of modern law enforcement ways to avoid contact with them whenever possible. September 11th removed a lot of the restraints that we placed on officers of all kinds, which is sad.

      For now, we still live in a country where you can live an anonymous life if you choose to and take some care. I can drive around in my common, non-tinted, every-light-works car all day and all night long and never get a second glance from a cop. When I go into government offices I say please and thank you and keep my voice low and my tone neutral. It’s just much easier this way. Some people can’t seem to help themselves.

      • 0 avatar
        Mike N.

        As they say, don’t invite the man into your life.

        If you’re not a black or (often times) hispanic male, it’s actually fairly easy. Keep a low profile and don’t be an asshole. My interactions with cops have always been professional and cordial. But I’ve seen first hand how cops will get into a black guy’s business or harass him in a way that I would never expect to happen to me.

        • 0 avatar

          It’s not limited to black guys. Mexicans usually catch the brunt of it in my area.

          Ironic, because a great number of cops of all varieties (state, county, city) in my area are American-born Mexican-Americans. And most of them truly dislike illegal aliens that come across the border and squat in America, giving a bad name to all of Hispanic origin and heritage.

    • 0 avatar
      See 7 up

      Cops, probably justifiably, say that a few bad apples often spoil their view of rest.

      Well, the public is prone to the same. If good cops don’t want the hate, they will need to start policing themselves. People see the bad. The good cop isn’t news.
      And yes, I do think there are many, many good cops – the majority, like there are good people.

    • 0 avatar

      That is because we have decades of cops being hateful and using up the people’s goodwill. Now that “Officer Friendly” has metamorphosed into “Warrior Cop” breaking down doors at all hours and using every weasel word slimeball trick to make his quota we assume police are going to do bad things to us and are surprised when they do not.
      If this is what happens when you call the cops

  • avatar

    I met a Highway Patrolman at the side of the road once. It wasn’t my fault, though. Someone needed a jumpstart, and the officer asked if I had cables. I did, so I unloaded the trunk of the car and helped. Afterwards, we went on our ways, and that was that.

    If all police officers were that nice, we wouldn’t have an issue. Considering the issues that we do have with some officers though, I agree that their power cannot be limitless.

    If we would quit worrying about small windshield cracks and tread depths, and would employ an attitude of compassion and service, we wouldn’t have this mess. But, since we do, I agree with SCOTUS.

  • avatar

    I can’t imagine this will change much of anything. The key to this particular case is that the officer had already written up and issued the citation (or in this case, a written warning), then further delayed the driver. Now the paperwork will just take longer to complete while they finish up whatever else they want to do to you.

  • avatar

    Enjoying reading all the various replies .

    Recently I was in Quartzite , Az. talking to a local Patrol Officer abouth where to find the best lunch , right off the freeway off ramp when a white Escalade rolled into the parking lot closely followed by an Arizona Highway Patrol Car , the passenger side door of the Highway Patrol Car popped open and out jumped a seriously pissed off Back Highway Patrolman hand on his gun , just as the Escalade’s passenger side door opened and an average middle class looking middle aged (50 +) lack Man slowly stepped out ~ the Highway partol Officer *instantly* began screaming ‘ get back in your car _NOW ! ‘ .

    The local Cop I was talking to got out of his patrol car and leaned across the roof , saying ‘ Sir ! I need you to get back into your Vehicle !RIGHT NOW ! ‘ also with gun handy .

    As no one was talking to / looking at me , I turned and egan to slowly limp away….

    I felt like I was on an episode of ‘ COPS ‘ T.V. show .

    As some here know , I’m an old crippled White guy who’s a *tiny* cog in the L.A.P.D.’s support system and I also live in The Ghetto where I get to see lots of the stuff that pisses off most Americans , on a daily basis .

    My feeling is : most Cops are good people doing and absolutely crappy job , worse than Garbage Collectors .

    Yes , I get to meet the occasional jerk wad Cop , one or so every week when they come in to buy their Service Weapons or if they luck out and win the Ithaca Shotgun Lottery .

    Fear and hate are _NOT_ Core American values ! .


  • avatar

    The continuing militarization of our police forces isn’t helping either. The more that we outfit every police with surplus military gear, armoured vehicles, full body armour, etc… the more that they want to act like soldiers. The police should be a service organization to the community, not an occupying force.

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