Supreme Court Rules Police Cannot Drag Out Traffic Stops

Cameron Aubernon
by Cameron Aubernon

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]

Cameron Aubernon
Cameron Aubernon

Seattle-based writer, blogger, and photographer for many a publication. Born in Louisville. Raised in Kansas. Where I lay my head is home.

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  • Matador Matador on Apr 23, 2015

    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.

  • Sproc Sproc on Apr 23, 2015

    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.

  • -Nate -Nate on Apr 23, 2015

    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 ! . -Nate

  • IHateCars IHateCars on Apr 23, 2015

    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.