Supreme Court: Police can\'t keep drivers waiting for K-9 units

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JEFFERSON CITY - Police officers can't hold a suspect without reasonable suspicion after a traffic stop in order to wait for a drug-sniffing dog to show up, the Supreme Court said Tuesday.

The case, Rodriguez v. United States, involves Officer Morgan Struble and his traffic stop of Dennys Rodriguez. Rodriguez was pulled over for veering onto a highway shoulder for one to two seconds shortly after midnight in March 2012. After giving a written warning, Struble kept Rodriguez by the side of the road for seven or eight minutes waiting for the dog to show up and sniff for drugs. The dog found meth, and Rodriguez was indicted and convicted.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote for the 6-3 majority, said that holding on to a suspect after a traffic stop is otherwise completed violates the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy joined together in the dissent. Because Rodriguez does not dispute that there was probable cause for the traffic stop, the dissenting justices said the only question was whether the stop was executed in a reasonable manner and they believe it was.

Lieutenant Gary Hill, Patrol Division Commander of the Cole County Sheriff Department, said that a good officer is able to recognize early in a traffic stop if a drug dog may be needed.

"At that point in time, if I'm a good officer, I've already called for backup or I've already called for the K9 unit based off of my observations," Hill said.

After observing what is in a suspect's vehicle and how that suspect is acting, Hill says an officer may have reasonable suspicion to detain them longer.

"Reasonable suspicion is what an officer uses to see if a person is involved in any kind of criminal activity," Hill said. "We're looking for a reasonable suspicion that leads us to a probable cause."

Hill said Cole County Sheriff's deputies find a majority of drugs through consent searches in which the person gives the officer permission to search the vehicle. These searches are conducted without a K-9 unit.