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Supreme Court Bans “Holdover” Stops

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In the Rochester New York area it is common for a “routine” road patrol officer who makes a routine traffic stop and thereafter observes the classic signs of intoxication, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and the rest, to order the motorist to remain where he or she is while they secure the services of a DWI specialist who will then undertake further investigation. Oftentimes, the delay involved will be upwards of fifteen minutes or more. For years, even to the extent of filing appeals, we have protested this procedure since, in effect, it results in a seizure for an offense for which there may not exist reasonable suspicion. You can imagine our relief when we saw the latest Fourth Amendment blockbuster from the United States Supreme Court, Rodriguez v. U.S., – U.S. – , 135 S.Ct. 1609 (U.S. S.Ct., 2015).

In Rodriguez, a K-9 officer observed a vehicle veer slowly onto the shoulder of Nebraska State Highway 275 for one or two seconds and then jerk back onto the road. The officer pulled the vehicle over at 12:06 a.m. The officer approached the vehicle gathered Rodriguez’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. He asked Rodriguez to accompany him to the patrol car and Rodriguez, after being told that he was not required to, decided to wait in his own vehicle.

By 12:27 or 12:28 a.m., the officer had determined to give Rodriguez a warning ticket, given back all the documents obtained from him, yet asked for permission to walk his dog around Rodriguez’s vehicle. Rodriguez said no, after which the office instructed Rodriguez to turn off the ignition, exit the vehicle, and stand in front of the patrol car to await the arrival of a second officer. Rodriguez complied and at 12:33 a.m., a second deputy sheriff arrived and the first officer retrieved his dog and led him twice around Rodriguez’s vehicle. The dog alerted the officer to the presence of drugs. All told, seven or eight minutes had elapsed from the time the officer issued the written warning until the dog indicated the presence of drugs. A search of the vehicle revealed a large bag of methamphetamine.

Finding the detention for the arrival of the second officer to be unlawful, the United States Supreme Court stressed that the purpose of a “routine” motor vehicle stop was to issue a summons for the offense for which the vehicle was originally stopped. Past this point, the court was clear that the dog sniff, which it identified as a search, required traditional reasonable suspicion. In the words of the Court:

“[A] traffic stop can become unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete th[e] mission’ of issuing a warning ticket. * * * The seizure remains lawful only so long as [unrelated] inquiries do not measurably extend the duration of the stop. An officer . . . may conduct certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful traffic stop. But contrary to Justice Alito’s suggestion, post, at 1625, n. 2, he may not do so in a way that prolongs the stop, absent the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an individual.”

Our take on Rodriguez is this. Where an officer stops a vehicle for a routine traffic stop and thereafter detains the motorist for the arrival of a separate officer to perform standard DWI checks, such additional detention results in a seizure of the motorist that violates the constraints of the Fourth Amendment and presumably Article I Section 8 of the New York State Constitution as well. To be valid, the stopping officer must undertake steps necessary to validate the existence of reasonable suspicion. On the other hand, in the event that the stopping officer initially develops reasonable suspicion for the alcohol or drug related operating offense, the temporary detention may be valid.

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