A little after midnight on March 27, 2012, Dennys Rodriguez was driving his Mercury Mountaineer on Nebraska’s State Highway 275 when he swerved onto the shoulder to avoid hitting a pothole. He was on the shoulder for perhaps one or two seconds before returning to the roadway, but that was enough to catch the attention of Nebraska police officer Morgan Struble.
He pulled Rodriguez over and conducted the usual and customary check of his driver’s license, insurance, and registration. After it was all checked out, Officer Struble wrote Rodriguez a warning based on a Nebraska law prohibiting driving on the shoulder of a state highway.
Struble then stepped out of bounds, according to the latest ruling from the Supreme Court, when he asked Rodriguez for permission to have his drug sniffing dog, Floyd, inspect the outside of his vehicle. Rodriguez refused permission whereupon Struble instructed Rodriguez to turn off his vehicle’s engine and exit the vehicle and wait by Struble’s police cruiser for backup to arrive.
Eight minutes elapsed.
When backup arrived, Floyd took two trips around Rodriguez’ vehicle, and on the second pass, gave an “alert” that drugs were present. This was sufficient probable cause to permit an inspection of the vehicle whereupon a bag of meth was found. This sent Rodriguez to jail for five years.
When he complained that his Fourth Amendment rights against illegal searches and seizures without probable cause were violated, a lower court disagreed, saying that the eight minutes’ delay was a “de minimus” intrusion into Rodriguez’ rights. An appeals court agreed and the case went to the Supreme Court, where oral arguments were heard in January. The court ruled on April 21 that the lower courts were wrong, that Rodriguez’ rights had been violated.