Rodriguez v. United States

Citation191 L.Ed.2d 492,575 U.S. 348,135 S.Ct. 1609
Decision Date21 April 2015
Docket NumberNo. 13–9972.,13–9972.
Parties Dennys RODRIGUEZ, Petitioner v. UNITED STATES.
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

575 U.S. 348
135 S.Ct. 1609
191 L.Ed.2d 492

Dennys RODRIGUEZ, Petitioner

No. 13–9972.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued Jan. 21, 2015.
Decided April 21, 2015.

Shannon P. O'Connor, Omaha, NE, for Petitioner.

Ginger D. Anders, Washington, D.C., for Respondent.

Jeffrey T. Green, Sidley Austin LLP, Washington, D.C., Sarah O'Rourke Schrup, Northwestern University Supreme Court Practicum, Chicago, IL, David R. Stickman, Federal Public Defender, Shannon P. O'Connor, First Assistant Federal Public Defender, Jennifer L. Gilg, Research and Writing Specialist, Federal Public Defender's Office, District of Nebraska, Omaha, NE, for Petitioner.

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Leslie R. Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General, Michael R. Dreeben, Deputy Solicitor General, Ginger D. Anders, Assistant to the Solicitor General, Christopher J. Smith, Attorney, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Respondent.

Justice GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court.

575 U.S. 350

In Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405, 125 S.Ct. 834, 160 L.Ed.2d 842 (2005), this Court held that a dog sniff conducted during a lawful traffic stop does not violate the Fourth Amendment's proscription of unreasonable seizures. This case presents the question whether the Fourth Amendment tolerates a dog sniff conducted after completion of a traffic stop. We hold that a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution's shield against unreasonable seizures. A seizure justified only by a police-observed traffic violation, therefore, "become[s] unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete

575 U.S. 351

th[e] mission" of issuing a ticket for the violation. Id ., at 407, 125 S.Ct. 834. The Court so recognized in Caballes, and we adhere to the line drawn in that decision.


Just after midnight on March 27, 2012, police officer Morgan Struble observed a Mercury Mountaineer veer slowly onto the shoulder of Nebraska State Highway 275 for one or two seconds and then jerk back onto the road. Nebraska law prohibits driving on highway shoulders, see Neb.Rev.Stat. § 60–6,142 (2010), and on that basis, Struble pulled the Mountaineer over at 12:06 a.m. Struble is a K–9 officer with the Valley Police Department in Nebraska, and his dog Floyd was in his patrol car that night. Two men were in the Mountaineer: the driver, Dennys Rodriguez, and a front-seat passenger, Scott Pollman.

135 S.Ct. 1613

Struble approached the Mountaineer on the passenger's side. After Rodriguez identified himself, Struble asked him why he had driven onto the shoulder. Rodriguez replied that he had swerved to avoid a pothole. Struble then gathered Rodriguez's license, registration, and proof of insurance, and asked Rodriguez to accompany him to the patrol car. Rodriguez asked if he was required to do so, and Struble answered that he was not. Rodriguez decided to wait in his own vehicle.

After running a records check on Rodriguez, Struble returned to the Mountaineer. Struble asked passenger Pollman for his driver's license and began to question him about where the two men were coming from and where they were going. Pollman replied that they had traveled to Omaha, Nebraska, to look at a Ford Mustang that was for sale and that they were returning to Norfolk, Nebraska. Struble returned again to his patrol car, where he completed a records check on Pollman, and called for a second officer. Struble then began writing a warning ticket for Rodriguez for driving on the shoulder of the road.

575 U.S. 352

Struble returned to Rodriguez's vehicle a third time to issue the written warning. By 12:27 or 12:28 a.m., Struble had finished explaining the warning to Rodriguez, and had given back to Rodriguez and Pollman the documents obtained from them. As Struble later testified, at that point, Rodriguez and Pollman "had all their documents back and a copy of the written warning. I got all the reason[s] for the stop out of the way[,] ... took care of all the business." App. 70.

Nevertheless, Struble did not consider Rodriguez "free to leave." Id., at 69–70. Although justification for the traffic stop was "out of the way," id., at 70, Struble asked for permission to walk his dog around Rodriguez's vehicle. Rodriguez said no. Struble then instructed Rodriguez to turn off the ignition, exit the vehicle, and stand in front of the patrol car to wait for the second officer. Rodriguez complied. At 12:33 a.m., a deputy sheriff arrived. Struble retrieved his dog and led him twice around the Mountaineer. The dog alerted to the presence of drugs halfway through Struble's second pass. All told, seven or eight minutes had elapsed from the time Struble issued the written warning until the dog indicated the presence of drugs. A search of the vehicle revealed a large bag of methamphetamine.

Rodriguez was indicted in the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska on one count of possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1). He moved to suppress the evidence seized from his car on the ground, among others, that Struble had prolonged the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion in order to conduct the dog sniff.

After receiving evidence, a Magistrate Judge recommended that the motion be denied. The Magistrate Judge found no probable cause to search the vehicle independent of the dog alert. App. 100 (apart from "information given by the dog," "Officer Struble had [no]thing other than a rather

575 U.S. 353

large hunch"). He further found that no reasonable suspicion supported the detention once Struble issued the written warning. He concluded, however, that under Eighth Circuit precedent, extension of the stop by "seven to eight minutes" for the dog sniff was only a de minimis intrusion on Rodriguez's Fourth Amendment rights and was therefore permissible.

The District Court adopted the Magistrate Judge's factual findings and legal conclusions and denied Rodriguez's motion to suppress. The court noted that, in the Eighth Circuit, "dog sniffs that occur within a short time following the completion of

135 S.Ct. 1614

a traffic stop are not constitutionally prohibited if they constitute only de minimis intrusions." App. 114 (quoting United States v. Alexander, 448 F.3d 1014, 1016 (C.A.8 2006) ). The court thus agreed with the Magistrate Judge that the "7 to 10 minutes" added to the stop by the dog sniff "was not of constitutional significance." App. 114. Impelled by that decision, Rodriguez entered a conditional guilty plea and was sentenced to five years in prison.

The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The "seven- or eight-minute delay" in this case, the opinion noted, resembled delays that the court had previously ranked as permissible. 741 F.3d 905, 907 (2014). The Court of Appeals thus ruled that the delay here constituted an acceptable "de minimis intrusion on Rodriguez's personal liberty." Id., at 908. Given that ruling, the court declined to reach the question whether Struble had reasonable suspicion to continue Rodriguez's detention after issuing the written warning.

We granted certiorari to resolve a division among lower courts on the question whether police routinely may extend an otherwise-completed traffic stop, absent reasonable suspicion, in order to conduct a dog sniff. 573 U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 43, 189 L.Ed.2d 896 (2014). Compare, e.g., United States v. Morgan, 270 F.3d 625, 632 (C.A.8 2001) (postcompletion delay of "well under ten minutes" permissible), with, e.g., State v. Baker, 2010 UT 18, ¶ 13, 229 P.3d 650, 658 (2010) ("[W]ithout additional reasonable

575 U.S. 354

suspicion, the officer must allow the seized person to depart once the purpose of the stop has concluded.").


A seizure for a traffic violation justifies a police investigation of that violation. "[A] relatively brief encounter," a routine traffic stop is "more analogous to a so-called ‘Terry stop’ ... than to a formal arrest." Knowles v. Iowa, 525 U.S. 113, 117, 119 S.Ct. 484, 142 L.Ed.2d 492 (1998) (quoting Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 439, 104 S.Ct. 3138, 82 L.Ed.2d 317 (1984), in turn citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968) ). See also Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323, 330, 129 S.Ct. 781, 172 L.Ed.2d 694 (2009). Like a Terry stop, the tolerable duration of police inquiries in the traffic-stop context is determined by the seizure's "mission"—to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop, Caballes, 543 U.S., at 407, 125 S.Ct. 834 and attend to related safety concerns, infra, at 1619 – 1620. See also United States v. Sharpe, 470 U.S. 675, 685, 105 S.Ct. 1568, 84 L.Ed.2d 605 (1985) ; Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 500, 103 S.Ct. 1319, 75 L.Ed.2d 229 (1983) (plurality opinion) ("The scope of the detention must be carefully tailored to its underlying justification."). Because addressing the infraction...

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