Tuesday, July 16, 2024

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Canine Sniffs and DUIs – United States v. Rodriguez

Image by: Michael Pereckas/Wikimedia Commons
Image by: Michael Pereckas/Wikimedia Commons

Imagine being pulled over for a minor speeding violation. The law enforcement officer casually approaches your vehicle, checks your driver’s license, proof of insurance, registration, and then issues a warning for the trivial violation before returning to his patrol car.  Relieved, the driver places the citation in his console assuming that the traffic stop had concluded.  Unexpectedly, the law enforcement asks you if his police canine may walk around your vehicle. Despite your refusal, the police canine is jumping and barking at the vehicle within several minutes.

The Eighth Circuit United States Court of Appeals in United States v. Rodriguez decided a similar case. In Rodriguez, an impromptu police canine sniff indicated a substantial amount of methamphetamines.[1] Defendant was then charged with “possessing with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1).”[2] During trial, the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska-Omaha subsequently denied defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds. [3] The Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed the lower court’s decision, which held that “the delay caused by the dog sniff did not violate [defendant’s] Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures.”[4]

In drawing this conclusion, the court declined to consider the reasonableness of the search, but rather focused on the length of time that the law enforcement officers occupied while allowing the canine to sniff around the defendant’s vehicle.[5]  The court found that a police canine sniff would likely be an unconstitutional seizure if the “traffic stop is unreasonably prolonged before the dog is employed,” however, “[a] brief delay . . . does not unreasonably prolong traffic stop.”  [6] In similar scenarios, the court has “repeatedly upheld dog sniffs that were conducted minutes after the traffic stop concluded.”[7]  The seven or eight minute delay in Rodriguez was thus found to be a “de minimis intrusion” on constitutional liberties—citing cases holding delays as reasonable that were “well under ten minutes.”[8]

On October 2, 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States granted the petitioner’s (Rodriguez) petition for writ of certiorari.[9]   After the Supreme Court listened to oral arguments in January, a decision was published on April 21, 2015.  Justice Ginsburg penned the opinion of the Court along with 5 concurring Justices.  The Court held in “…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 th[e] mission” of issuing a ticket for the violation.”[10]

This decision is relevant in DUI cases.  For instance, should an officer be allowed to delay the driver from leaving for 10 or more minutes after issuing a citation so that another, more experienced, officer may administer field sobriety tests?  What if the officer suspects the driver is under the influence of drugs or medications since no odor of alcohol was detected?  These are complicated issues involving the constitutional rights of thise suspected of DUI and will be addressed more thoroughly in other blog posts.


About the Author: Steven Oberman has been licensed in Tennessee since 1980, and successfully defended over 2,000 DUI defendants.  Among the many honors bestowed upon him, Steve served as Dean of the National College for DUI Defense, Inc. (NCDD) and currently serves as chair of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers DUI Committee.  Steve was the first lawyer in Tennessee to be certified as a DUI Defense Specialist by the NCDD.

He is the author of DUI: The Crime & Consequences in Tennessee, updated annually since 1991 (Thomson-West), and co-author with Lawrence Taylor of the national treatise, Drunk Driving Defense, 7th edition (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen).  Steve has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee Law School since 1993 and has received a number of prestigious awards for his faculty contributions.  He is a popular international speaker, having spoken at legal seminars in 29 states, the District of Columbia and three foreign countries.

You may contact Steve through his website at www.tndui.com or by telephone at (865) 249-7200.

The author would also like to recognize and thank Matt Wayne, a second year law student at the University of Tennessee College of Law, for his research and editing contributions of this article.

[1] United States v. Rodriguez, 741 F.3d 905, 907 (8th Cir.) cert. granted, 135 S. Ct. 43 (2014).

[2] Id. at 906; see 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1) (stating that “it shall be unlawful for any person [to] knowingly or intentionally . . . manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance.”).

[3] Rodriguez, 741 F.3d at 908.

[4] Id. at 907.

[5] Id. at 908 (“In light of our conclusion that the traffic stop was not unreasonably prolonged, we need not decide whether [the law enforcement officer] had reasonable suspicion to continue [defendant’s] detention.”).

[6] Id. at 907.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.; see, e.g., United States v. Alexander, 448 F.3d 1014, 1017 (8th Cir.2006) (four-minute delay upheld as a de minimis intrusion on personal liberty); United States v. Martin, 411 F.3d 998, 1002 (8th Cir.2005) (two-minute delay upheld); United States v. Morgan, 270 F.3d 625, 632 (8th Cir.2001) (delay of “well under ten minutes” upheld); United States v. $404,905.00 in U.S. Currency, 182 F.3d 643, 649 (8th Cir.1999) (two-minute delay upheld).

[9] Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 43 (2014).

[10] Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S.             (2015)

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Steve Oberman

Steve Oberman

Since graduating from the University of Tennessee Law School in 1980, Mr. Oberman has become established as a national authority on the intricacies of DUI defense law. Steve is a former Dean of the National College for DUI Defense, co-author of a national treatise ("Drunk Driving Defense" published by Aspen/Wolters-Kluwer), and author of "DUI: The Crime and Consequences in Tennessee" (published by Thomson-Reuters/West). He has taught thousands of lawyers, judges, and members of the general public about the intricacies of this crime. Steve was selected as a Fulbright Scholar to teach American Criminal Law and American Trial Advocacy at the University of Latvia School of Law in 2019; in 2023 taught for a semester as a visiting professor at Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) Faculty of Law in Budapest, Hungary; and as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Ljubljana Faculty of Law in 2024. Steve has also presented at a number of judicial conferences in the United States and Canada as well as for law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Czech Republic Police Academy. As a Tennessee DUI attorney, Mr. Oberman has successfully defended over two thousand clients charged with Driving Under the Influence of alcohol and/or drugs. In 2006, Mr. Oberman became the first DUI lawyer in Tennessee to be recognized by the National College for DUI Defense as a Board Certified Specialist in the area of DUI Defense law.

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