By Mark Joseph Stern
Dennys Rodriguez knew his rights—and he planned to use them. Just after midnight in March of 2012, a police officer pulled Rodriguez over for briefly veering onto the shoulder of the highway, and wrote Rodriguez a warning. The stop should have ended there. Instead, the officer asked Rodriguez for permission to walk his dog around Rodriguez’s Mercury Mountaineer. Rodriguez declined. The officer called for backup and, eight minutes later, did it anyway. On its second pass, the dog alerted the officer to the presence of drugs. He searched the car and found a bag of methamphetamine.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the drugs are inadmissible in court, because the officer had violated Rodriguez’s Fourth Amendment rights by prolonging the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion. (In Fourth Amendment terms, the eight-minute period during which the officer detained Rodriguez—after writing his warning—was an “unreasonable seizure.”) From a purely constitutional perspective, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s majority opinion is so obviously correct that it’s a little disturbing to see only six justices endorse it. But it’s still encouraging to watch this court grapple with the realities of police overreach and, occasionally, put the kibosh on law enforcement’s worst excesses.