Detouring From The Traffic Stop Mission: Why Can’t Floyd The Drug Dog Sniff A Car?

Last month, the United States Supreme Court in Rodriguez v. United States, tackled the issue of whether or not a police officer can prolong a typical traffic stop to allow a police drug dog to sniff around a person’s vehicle.  Long story short, K-9 officers are not going to be too happy about this ruling!

The nuts and bolts of this case are as follows:

A K-9 officer observed Rodriquez’s car drift over the shoulder line and then jerk back over to the roadway.  Seeing an obvious moving violation, the officer stopped Rodriquez and proceeded with his traffic stop.  Rodriquez explained that he jerked his vehicle to avoid a pothole.  (As a resident of Dayton, I feel for Rodriquez’s pain when it comes to potholes!  Half the roads look like a demilitarized zone in this town!)

The officer asks for Rodriquez’s license, registration, proof of insurance, and requests for Rodriquez to accompany him to his police cruiser.  Being a seasoned alleged drug trafficker, Rodriquez declines the officer’s request and remains in his vehicle.  Good news for Rodriquez is his record check comes back clean.  But being diligent officer and staying true to his traffic mission, the officer asks for Rodriquez’s passenger’s information to run a records check.  The passenger complies and the officer begins a record check back at his cruiser.  And you won’t believe this….the passenger’s record comes back clean!  Two for two!  Rodriquez might get out of this one with his drugs!  But don’t hold your breath.

The officer then walks back to Rodriquez’s vehicle, most likely with a grumpy face, and issues Rodriquez a warning for the moving violation.  But knowing that something was not right and feeling his police sense tingle, the officer asked Rodriquez if his drug dog Floyd could walk around his car.  Maybe to pick up the smell of drugs or maybe hoping Floyd would mark his territory on Rodriquez’s vehicle.  In either event, Rodriquez declined this invitation and was subsequently ordered out of the vehicle.  Well I guess Floyd did not have to urinate because he sniffed out a large bag of methamphetamine.  With his grumpy face turning into a smiley face, the officer arrested Rodriquez for possession of illegal drugs.

Eventually this case makes it way up to the U.S. Supreme Court where it was sliced and diced by the Justices.  Writing for the Court, Justice Ginsburg stated that a traffic stop “can become unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the traffic stop mission.”   In other words, a police officer cannot prolong a traffic stop just to perform a dog-sniffing drug search.

Sounds great to me!  But, what exactly is the traffic stop mission and why the hell can’t Floyd and his fellow drug dogs be part of that mission?

Justice Ginsburg states that an officer’s mission includes “ordinary inquiries incident to the traffic stop.”  These inquires “involve checking the driver’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof of insurance.  A dog sniff, however, “is a measure aimed at detecting evidence of ordinary wrong doing.”  The Court eventually concludes with “the critical question then is not whether the dog sniff occurs before or after the officer issues a ticket, but whether conducting the sniff prolongs the stop.”

Beyond the reasonable time requirement during a traffic stop, I believe the Court took a huge step in further recognizing that a drug dog is a very powerful tool for drug detection and we must treat a drug dog sniff as a search.  The bottom line is that a highly trained drug dog is no different from GPS trackers or wiretapping.  As Justice Ginsburg states very clearly in her opinion, drug dogs are used for detecting evidence of wrong doing.

Wanting to dig a little further about how powerful a dog’s nose can truly be, I did a basic Google search about the subject.  After reading a few articles, I came across an article discussing some unexpected things a dog can smell.  You can read it in full at

With that said, I give you the Top Ten Unexpected Things That Dogs Can Smell! (You will be missed David Letterman.)

  1. Bacteria – Bee keepers use dogs to detect diseased beehives with deadly bacteria before that hive can spread it to healthy beehives. Honey….I would only smell honey.
  1. Counterfeit DVDs – Dogs are trained to detect polycarbonate, a key component of all DVD disks. In turn, these trained dogs help stop the Southeast Asia DVD counterfeiting trade.  Not too happy about these dogs, the Malaysian DVD Pirates (let that one sink in for a moment) put a $30,000 bounty on the dogs.
  1. Water Search Dogs – Dogs are trained to detect, locate, and recover drowned bodies! Frickin Drowned Bodies!  Bodies at the bottom of a lake or riverbed….their noses can pick that scent up!  They can do this by shore, boat, or while swimming in the water to track the drowned body scent to the strongest point.
  1. Ambushes and Vietcong Equipment – Beyond detecting the enemy during the Vietnam War, they were also able to detect enemy tunnels, weapons, and booby traps. And to alert U.S. Troops of said tunnels, weapons, and booby traps, these dogs were trained not to bark.  Instead, they were trained to raise the hairs on their necks, cross their ears, or walk on their hind legs!  I cannot even get my two dogs to sit still for five seconds let alone not bark at every damn thing that is outside in the yard.
  1. Diabetes – Dogs are now trained to alert their diabetic owners whenever their blood sugar rises to dangerous levels. And during a diabetic attack, some are trained to fetch an insulin kit.  These dogs put Lassie to shame.
  1. Whale Poop – I will admit this one is kind of weird, but if you are a scientist into whale poop a dog is truly your best friend. Apparently, whale poop is used to monitor the whale’s health/diet.  The problem is that it sinks in about 30 minutes after the whale drops his deuce.  And that is where the whale poop dog comes into play.  These dogs can trace the whale poop scent from more than one mile out and lead the scientists to the poop.
  1. Bed bugs – A dog’s nose is so useful that even bug exterminators have jumped on board to use dogs to detect bed bugs throughout a house. And get this; their accuracy rate is about 96 percent!
  1. Minerals and Ores – Need to find some valuable minerals and ores? Well look no further than a dog’s nose!  The government of Finland financed a program that taught dogs to detect valuable sulphide rocks.  So, if you find yourself in Finland looking for sulphide rocks, make sure to rent a sulphide rock dog because according to the local Fin population these dogs are pretty frickin sweet.
  1. Ovulation in Cows – That is right ladies and gentlemen, dogs can detect when a cow is in heat! Bull semen, for all you city types, is very expensive and there are not too many bull semen collection centers out there in the farmlands.  In addition, most cows are artificial inseminated.  Thus, to avoid the misuse of expensive bull semen, dogs help farmers know exactly when their cows are in heat.

And the number one unexpected thing dogs can smell is………….

  1. Cancer – You read it correctly! Dogs are trained to detect breast and lung cancer, to only name a few.  These cancer cells have a distinct smell from their waste product that is exhaled when a cancer patient breathes.  From the patient’s breath, these dogs lock into those scents and alert the patient if they smell cancer.

So why did I list all of these things about what dogs can be trained to detect?  Well the answer is really two fold.  First, I think dogs are amazing animals and I wanted to give them a shout out for all the good they do for mankind.  Second, I really wanted to drive home that a dog’s nose is a very powerful tool, especially for law enforcement purposes.  I believe that the Justice’s recognized this by ruling that a drug dog sniffing around a vehicle is not part of the traffic stop mission if it prolongs the stop.

As always, do not consent to police searches of your vehicle!  But remember to be polite and comply with police officers.  That is for both your safety and the officer’s safety.  AND DO NOT ADMIT TO ANY WRONG DOING!  Always….Always…Always call an attorney before talking with a police officer!

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