Status of North Carolina Court of Appeals Cases Before the North Carolina Supreme Court on the Scope of a Traffic Stop under Rodriguez v. United States

In Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), the United States Supreme Court significantly limited the scope of a traffic stop. It is almost exactly two years since the ruling, and appellate court opinions throughout the country are still proliferating. And so have our faculty’s blog posts: Jeff Welty has written relevant posts here, here, here, here, and here, Alyson Grine here and here, Shea Denning here, Phil Dixon here, and my posts are here, here, and here. This post summarizes Rodriguez and three North Carolina Court of Appeals rulings that are currently before the North Carolina Supreme Court.

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North Carolina Supreme Court Affirms Post-Rodriguez Court of Appeals Ruling in State v. Warren

Last April, 2015, the United States Supreme Court in Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), significantly limited the scope of a traffic stop. The Court ruled that an officer may not extend a completed traffic stop for any period of time, no matter how brief, to conduct a dog sniff—absent reasonable suspicion of criminal activity (or consent). The Court rejected the government’s argument that an officer may incrementally prolong a traffic stop, which some lower courts, including North Carolina’s, had justified as a de minimis intrusion. The Court reasoned that a dog alert is not a permissible part of a traffic stop because it detects evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing, which is not part of an officer’s traffic mission. The Court, however, clearly indicated that if a dog sniff or other non-traffic-related activity does not add any time to the stop (in this case, it added 7–8 minutes), then the dog sniff or other activity is valid under the Fourth Amendment, as it previously had ruled in Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405 (2005).

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Supreme Court: Alert by a Trained or Certified Drug Dog Normally Provides Probable Cause

Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided Florida v. Harris, holding that when a trained and certified drug dog alerts on a vehicle, that normally provides probable cause to search the car, even if there are no records proving that the dog has previously performed well at detecting drugs in the field. I mentioned Harris in my … Read more


State v. Smith: Dog Alerts and Particularized Suspicion

Last August, the court of appeals in State v. Smith, ___ N.C. App. ___, 729 S.E.2d 120, temp. stay granted, __ N.C. __, 731 S.E.2d 179 (mem.) (2012), decided an issue of first-impression related to a drug dog alert and the reasonableness of an ensuing Fourth Amendment search. Since we haven’t yet blogged about Smith, … Read more


State v. Sellars: De Minimis Delay for Dog Sniffs Permissible

May an officer prolong a routine traffic stop for four and a half minutes to allow a drug dog to sniff the exterior of the vehicle–even if the officer lacks reasonable suspicion to believe that drugs are in the car?  Yes she may.  The court of appeals held this week in State v. Sellars, No. … Read more