My Traffic Stop

A few years ago, I was driving through Colorado on my way home to Arizona. I was traveling the speed limit, but was nevertheless pulled over by a cop for allegedly exceeding the speed limit by 2 mph. The officer asked me to exit my vehicle and issued me a warning. As the traffic stop appeared to be ending, the cop began with a series of questions: do you have any weapons, do you have any drugs, etc. I answered in the negative. Then the cop asked me if he could search my vehicle. I responded, “I’m an attorney and you may not search my vehicle.” At this point he detained me claiming he was going to call for the drug dog if I did not let him search my vehicle. I was detained on the side of the road for another 10 minutes or so before the cop finally released me.

I was clearly not stopped for speeding – that was just the pretext that cop used to try to search my vehicle. I followed my own advice to NEVER CONSENT TO A SEARCH and went on my way having accomplished my primary goal during a traffic stop: escape without being arrested, beaten or killed.

The Drug Dog

I don’t know if the cop really called for a drug dog, or whether that was just an effort to coerce me into consenting to a search. Either way, a 2015 Supreme Court case, Rodriguez v. United States, says what that cop did to me is illegal. In summary, the purpose of a traffic stop is for an officer to determine whether or not to issue a traffic citation, and to make “ordinary inquiries incident to [the traffic] stop”, such as checking the status of the driver’s license or whether or not the driver is insured. A drug dog is not an ordinary incident to a traffic stop, and “Lacking the same close connection to roadway safety as the ordinary inquiries, a dog sniff is not fairly characterized as part of the officer’s traffic mission.” Cops are required to complete a traffic stop diligently and within a reasonable period of time. Once a cop has completed the “ordinary inquiries incident to the traffic stop”, the cop may not prolong the detention of the driver for some purpose unrelated to the traffic stop. As Justice Ginsburg stated, “A traffic stop becomes unlawful if prolonged beyond the time in fact needed to complete all traffic-based inquiries.”

In Rodriguez v. United States, Mr. Rodriguez was detained approximately 7 to 8 minutes after he was issued a warning and before the drug dog arrived, and that 7 to 8 minutes was too long. It is worth noting though, that the Supreme Court left open the question of whether a driver may be detained after the all traffic-based inquiries are completed if waiting for a drug dog is “independently supported by individualized suspicion” that there may be drugs. For example, if there was a crack pipe sitting in plain view on the driver’s dashboard, that might justify the cop detaining the driver for a drug dog sniff.