US Supreme Court restricts length of traffic stops

judgeWhen stopped by police it is seldom a good idea to agree to a search of your car, your purse, yourself, your house, or anything else. Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme court in Rodriguez v. United States underlines this truth:

FACTS:

A cop pulled over the defendant Rodriguez for a minor traffic violation. He checked Rodriguez’ license and registration, then issued Rodriguez a warning ticket. After concluding the reason for the stop, he asked Rodriguez for permission to walk his drug-sniffing dog around the car. Rodriguez refused, so the cop made him wait 7-8 minutes until a backup officer arrived. A drug dog then sniffed the car and drugs were found. Rodriguez was convicted.

HELD:

The Supreme Court threw out the conviction, noting that an officer’s job during traffic stops typically includes only those issues involved in the safe operation of a motor vehicle: checking for a valid operator’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof of insurance. The court held a dog sniff is not part of an officer’s “traffic mission.”

Unless the officer has a reasonable and fact-based suspicion that further criminal activity is afoot, he may not prolong the stop beyond that time necessary to complete the traffic investigation. In Rodriguez’ case, the legal traffic stop ended the moment Rodriguez was handed his warning ticket.

The court also made it clear that it did not matter whether the dog sniff occurred in the middle of the stop or at the end. A valid stop ends and the illegal detention begins either:

  1. as soon as the investigation concludes; or
  2. as soon as it ought to have been concluded, which ever comes first.

The cop cannot extend the length of the detention–whether during or after the stop–unless he has additional evidence of a crime.  Even if the delay is very brief, any continued detention is considered illegal.

“Whizzinator” makes passing drug test a felony

IconicA companion statute to Missouri’s forgery statute is section 570.100: “Possession of a forging instrumentality” which makes it a crime to possess anything for the purpose of committing forgery. Like forgery itself, possession of a forging instrumentality is a class C felony.There was once a search warrant issued to search a residence and during the search the police turned up a gadget called the “Whizzinator” in the suspect’s dresser drawer.

The “Whizzinator” is worn inside the trousers and is constructed so as to be able to deliver a drug-free urine sample at body temperature. It’s claim to fame, however, is that The “Whizzinator” can fill a specimen jar under the watchful eye of a probation officer without the deception being discovered.

TestThe Whizzinator comes in a rainbow of colors: White, Tan, Brown, Black and Latino. I’m not kidding.

You just load up with certified, drug-free, re-hydrated, simulated urine, activate the included heater pack and strap this baby on.

You are ready for the drug test.

So Back to the story . . . This fellow who had his house searched was already was on probation and required to take regular drug tests. He made the mistake keeping the Whizzinator at home, in the original package which—of course—had his name and address on the outside. That was all it took. He was charged with the possession of a forging instrumentality.

Possession was not an issue, so his attorney attempted to defend her client by asserting that he did not intend to use it for a forgery; i.e that the Whizzinator had other uses. This seemed unlikely, but after scouring the Whizzinator website, she found an obscure testimonial left by one satisfied customer:

I used the Whizzinator at work and it saved my job, and then later that night, I used it on my wife and it saved my marriage.”

That was good for a laugh, but not much else. And being quite guilty of other, unrelated charges, and on his way back to prison, the poor guy pled guilty for concurrent time. Too bad. It would have been an interesting trial.