Update on U.S. Supreme Court’s Ruling in Rodriguez v. United States Concerning Extension of Traffic Stops

Last April, the United States Supreme Court in Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), significantly limited the scope of a traffic stop. The officer in Rodriguez completed a traffic stop for driving on the shoulder of a highway after checking the vehicle registration and driver’s licenses of the driver and passenger, conducting a warrant check, returning all documents, and issuing the driver a warning ticket. The officer then asked the driver for consent to walk his drug dog around the vehicle, but the driver refused to give his consent. Nonetheless, the officer told the driver to turn off the ignition, leave the vehicle, and wait for a second officer. When the second officer arrived, the first officer walked his drug dog around the car, and the dog alerted to the presence of drugs. A search of the vehicle revealed methamphetamine. Seven to eight minutes had elapsed from the time the officer issued the written warning until the dog’s alert.

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State v. Leak: Defendant Unlawfully Seized During License Check

The United States Supreme Court held in Rodriguez v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015) (discussed here), that a law enforcement officer may not extend a traffic stop to investigate matters unrelated to the basis for the stop—not even for a matter of minutes—unless the additional delay is supported by reasonable suspicion. The North Carolina Court of Appeals applied that principle this week in State v. Leak, ___ N.C. App. ___ (2015), reversing the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress and vacating the defendant’s conviction for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

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