On Tuesday the Court held in Rodriguez v. U.S. that suspects cannot be detained beyond the scope of a routine traffic stop for the sole purpose of performing a dog sniff. The 6-3 ruling is indeed a big win for the 4th Amendment. But our old friend and former-Flex Associate Director Scott Morgan emailed me a note about why this ruling is particularly special.
Great ruling today! Of course, everyone’s going to talk about the rarity of the Court upholding the 4th Amendment these days. What I noticed (and hope more people see) is that this case only happened because the suspect asserted his rights by refusing the dog sniff. It’s a point I used to make frequently in the Flex Blog that SCOTUS rulings limiting 4th Amendment protections tend to arise from situations where the suspect did not assert their rights (e.g. Florida v. Bostick). Yet here’s a case where the suspect did flex their rights, and look at the outcome! If anyone wonders how asserting your rights makes a difference, well … here you go.
Great point, Scott! Anytime suspects fail to clearly invoke their 4th Amendment rights, their defense is confined to the more difficult path of articulating other procedural 4th Amendment violations. Because of the relative weakness of such arguments, courts will often find that police acted in “good faith” by executing a search they believed to be lawful. This sets bad precedent expanding the scope of legal police searches.
However, when citizens clearly assert their rights, they empower the courts to rule in their favor by setting a higher evidentiary standard necessary to override their refusal. In other words, there’s a greater likelihood for a 4th Amendment victory – which is likely to set good precedent limiting the scope of legal police searches.
I don’t know if Dennys Rodriguez has seen our videos, but when police asked him to wait around until a drug dog could sniff his vehicle, he correctly refused. If more citizens are empowered to do the same – we’ll get better cases, better rulings, and a stronger 4th Amendment.