In April of this year, the Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Rodriquez v. United States which has opened up a new set of criminal law issues. The Rodriquez case addressed situations where a person is lawfully stopped for a traffic violation and is then subject to an additional period of detention by an officer for an unrelated issue. Mr. Rodriguez was stopped for a traffic violation. Once the officer completed his investigation of the traffic violation, he continued to detain Mr. Rodriguez for approximately 8 minutes in order to allow a drug detection dog to conduct a “sniff” of the vehicle. Some courts had said that this type of detention for a few minutes was so minimal that it did not implcate a person’s right to be free from unlawful seizures under the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court disagreed and determined that any additional detention beyond the time reasonably required to investigate the reason for the initial stop had to be supported by a showing that a police officer possessed reasonable suspicion of additional criminal activity. As a result, if an officer desires to detain someone beyond the time reasonably expected, for example, a speeding ticket, then the officer must be able to articulate additional facts and circumstances that would support an objective belief that the person is engaged in criminal activity.
The impact of this case is likely to be the most pronounced in drug cases and driving while impaired cases which routinely begin with a traffic stop. An attorney could utilize this decision in appropriate circumstances to move to suppress evidence that was obtained in violation of a person’s Fourth Amendment rights.