Red lights, dogs and the Fourth Circuit

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Aug 20, 2008 Red lights, dogs and the Fourth Circuit

Bill of Rights. (From the public domain.) 

Police love when suspects drive cars. The driver is bound to violate one traffic law or another, thus justifying a police stop of the car, and an attempt to reveal criminal activity afoot.

Police also love to bring "drug" dogs to attempt a justification to search the vehicle. However, a drug dog sniff is only allowed during the time reasonably needed to issue a moving violation citation. If no dogs are available in such a short time, the cops need to manufacture, I mean try to find, reasonable suspicion to prolong the car stop to get a drug sniffing dog’s presence.

What, however, justifies the cops to hold onto a red-light running violation suspect for thirty minutes? Read this Fourth Circuit opinion that allowed such a lengthy detention based on claimed reasonable articulable suspicion that the court said allowed the police to detain the defendant longer than needed to write a moving violation ticket (running a red light). U.S. v. Branch, ___ F.3d. ___ (Fourth Cir., August 20, 2008).

Fortunately, the dissent in  U.S. v. Branch is strongly-worded enough in order to help make headway in getting an en banc reveiw of this case. Meanwhile, if in Virginia, caveat emptor, to say the least. Jon Katz.

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