Wednesday, April 22, 2015

4th amendment news: traffic stops can't be prolonged for a dog sniff - because of Ferguson?

The Fourth amendment is intended to protect US citizens from unreasonable searches of person and property, and indicates that a warrant, supported by probable cause, is needed for such searches.

However, for certain exceptions, a warrant isn't absolutely required. These exceptions include, but are not limited to: plain view, incident to arrest,  consent, exigent circumstances (in other words, emergency), and motor vehicle. The motor vehicle exception has been expanded sot hat motorists who are stopped for other reasons might be detained until a dog is available to sniff what else might be in the vehicle. This is because if the motorist were allowed to leave, the evidence might be gone forever.

But is it against the 4th amendment - in other words, is it constitutional -- to allow police to detain a motorist until a dog is available?

The Supreme Court rule this week that the answer, thankfully, is no.

But did a majority of the court rule this way due to the recent events in Ferguson, MO? This article in ABA Journal says "maybe."

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday favoring motorists in some dog-sniff cases had an unusual lineup.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was joined by three of the court’s liberals in her majority opinion, along with Justice Antonin Scalia, who has previously joined with liberals in some Fourth Amendment cases, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

An article in Slate offers a possible reason for Roberts’ vote: the Ferguson effect. “Perhaps the savvy, media-aware Roberts has finally learned the lessons of Ferguson and is trading in his logical abstractions for some much-needed legal realism,” the article says.

Slate article 
Opinion article (via  scotus blog).

What does this mean to the average driver? This means that if you are stopped by the police, and you may have raised a suspicion of the officers that your vehicle contains some illegal article, the traffic stop can't last too long, or be prolonged just in order for a dog to be made available! This is good news for supporters of the 4th amendment.

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