Jeff Welty in his post here yesterday discussed last week’s North Carolina Court of Appeals ruling in State v. Bedient. Today, I will discuss another ruling decided on the same day: State v. Castillo. Both cases are post-Rodriguez cases with different outcomes, with Bedient resulting in a ruling for the defendant and Castillo a ruling for the State.
Last week, the court of appeals decided State v. Bedient, a significant post-Rodriguez opinion on traffic stops. The court ruled that an officer lacked reasonable suspicion to extend a stop by a few seconds to ask the driver for consent to search. This post summarizes and analyzes the case.
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).
As mentioned in a recent News Roundup, the Raleigh Police Department (RPD) produced a short video entitled “Traffic Stops: What to Expect as a Motorist,” instructing drivers who have been pulled over by law enforcement on how they should behave. It appears that the RPD had the laudable goal of educating the public to ensure the safety of both officers and motorists. Captain Bruce, the officer who narrates the video, states that “by following a few basic steps, the experience can progress without misunderstanding or conflict.” The video is garnering attention: As of today, it has received 8,446 views on YouTube, with “likes” outweighing “dislikes” 21 to 15. This blog offers legal commentary on a few of the points made in the video, using a scale of green light for what appear to be sound instructions, yellow light for instructions that may raise questions, and red light for an instruction that may prove misleading to citizens.
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.
I’ve updated my paper on traffic stops to include Rodriguez v. United States, __ U.S. __, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), and other recent cases. It’s available here. For those not familiar with the paper, it is a summary of the law regarding traffic stops, including typical reasons for such stops, the stops’ duration, the techniques … Read more
About three months ago, the United States Supreme Court decided Rodriguez v. United States, __ U.S. __, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015). I wrote about it here. In a nutshell, the Court ruled that once the purpose of a traffic stop has been addressed – or reasonably should have been addressed – an officer can’t extend the stop, even briefly, for unrelated investigative activities such as drug dog sniffs, unless the officer has reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to support the continued detention.
The rule is clear enough in theory but it can give rise to some difficult questions in practice. May an officer engage in brief chit-chat with a motorist, or does such interaction constitute an extension of the stop? What about inquiring about a motorist’s travel plans, or a passenger’s, where such inquiries may bear on the likelihood of driver fatigue but also may be used to seek out inconsistencies that may be evidence of illicit activity? May an officer comply with Rodriguez by multi-tasking, i.e., by asking unrelated questions while examining a driver’s license, or does multi-tasking inherently slow an officer down and so extend a stop?
Courts across the country are beginning to address some of these questions. This post summarizes the early impact of Rodriguez.
I’ve recently updated my paper on traffic stops. As before, it covers stops from start to finish, including the legal standard for making a stop, the length of a stop, and investigative techniques that may be used during a stop. I may need to update it again after the Supreme Court decides United States v. … Read more
A traffic stop is valid if it is supported by reasonable suspicion. During a valid traffic stop, an officer may demand the driver’s license and registration, may run a computer check based on those documents, and so on. But what if the reasonable suspicion supporting the stop dissipates soon after the stop is made?