Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court severely curtailed the government's ability to utilize a routine traffic stop as an excuse to subject motorists to a canine-sniff of their vehicles as a precursor to a search for narcotics.
In Rodriguez v. United States, the Court ruled that the right of "seizure" during a routine traffic stop extends only for the length of time necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop --- a purpose that ends with the issuance of a citation or warning for the routine stop. While the time needed to effectuate the purpose of the stop includes such measures as necessary to protect an officer’s safety, it does not, according to the Supremes, include a "dog sniff" which, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote on behalf of the court's majority, relates to "the Government’s endeavor to detect crime in general or drug trafficking in particular."
While the 6 to 3 decision (Justices Thomas, Alito and Kennedy dissenting) was handed down in a case in which a motorist was caught transporting methamphetamine inside his car, it also serves to protect the rights of those who are innocent, such as 63-year old Dennis Eckhart, whose nightmarish plight --- including multiple, invasive, forced medical procedures --- all came about as the result of a routine traffic stop and wholly unfounded suspicion by local police...
As The BRAD BLOG reported in late 2013 and as further recounted in the complaint filed by his attorneys in federal court, Eckhart's routine traffic stop was transformed into a 14-hour, outrageously intrusive ordeal.
After receiving a written warning about a "cracked windshield," Eckhart was questioned about narcotics and subjected to a dog-sniff and vehicle search. No narcotics were found.
Based upon nothing more than a suspicion that he was concealing narcotics --- a suspicion which allegedly arose because, according to police, Eckhart appeared to clench his buttocks while obeying a command to exit his car --- the Deming, New Mexico Police Department obtained a warrant for an anal cavity search, transported Eckhart to the Gila County Regional Medical Center, and compelled him to undergo multiple medical procedures without his consent.
After an x-ray failed to reveal any narcotics, Eckhart, on two occasions, was subjected to rectal probes by a doctor’s finger. This was followed by three enemas in which Eckhart was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police and to watch while doctors searched his stools. Following a second x-ray, Eckhart was compelled to undergo a colonoscopy in which a scope with a camera was inserted into Eckhart's anus, rectum, colon, and large intestines. No narcotics were found. No arrest was made.
To add outrageous insult to an unreasonably intrusive search and seizure, the hospital later billed Eckhart $4,539 for the procedures he had never authorized.
A modicum of justice was eventually achieved when the tiny town of Deming agreed to pay $1.6 million to settle Eckhart's lawsuit for that absurdly intrusive search. But it is rather profound that, based upon this week's decision in Rodriguez, it can now be said that Eckhart's 4th Amendment rights were violated just as soon as police detained him beyond the time necessary to write a warning notice for his cracked windshield.
Of course, just as had been the case with the 5th Amendment right to remain silent, the extent to which the 4th Amendment serves to protect the right against unreasonable search and seizure depends upon a knowledgable citizenry. While the 5th Amendment right is assured by way of a requisite Miranda warning, police are not required to issue a Rodriguez warning. A citizen cannot complain about being detained beyond the period necessary to effectuate the traffic stop, being subjected to a "dog sniff" or a vehicle search if they "consent" to those procedures.
Hence, it is important that you "know" your rights!