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North Carolina Supreme Court Decides Dog Sniff Does Not Improperly Prolong Traffic Stop

Posted by Josh Valentine | Dec 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

The North Carolina Supreme Court recently decided that a drug dog sniff does not improperly prolong a traffic stop under certain circumstances.

In State v. Bullock, the North Carolina Supreme Court considered whether a drug dog sniff unreasonably extended the duration of a traffic stop in violation of the 4th Amendment Constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Facts of the Case in State v. Bullock

Michael Antonio Bullock was pulled over for speeding and other traffic violations. While the officer was performing routine checks related to the traffic stop, Bullock made a number of contradictory statements. The officer's own experience in local drug enforcement, coupled with Bullock's contradictory statements and other suspicious behavior led the officer to suspect that Rodriguez was trafficking drugs.

Based on that suspicion, the officer asked if he could search Bullock's vehicle. The officer's dog sniffed a bag that was found during the search, and the dog alerted the officer to the presence of drugs. The bag contained a large quantity of heroin, and Bullock was arrested on drug charges.

Bullock moved to suppress the bag of heroin from evidence, arguing that the drug dog sniff improperly prolonged the traffic stop in violation of the 4th amendment.

The Court decided that the drug dog sniff did not improperly prolong Bullock's traffic stop, because the officer had "reasonable suspicion" that Bullock had committed other crimes.

How Long Can a Traffic Stop Last?

The 4th Amendment states that: "The right of the people to be secure…, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated."

In legal terms, a traffic stop is considered a seizure because it (at least temporarily) interferes with a person's liberty. Therefore, traffic stops cannot be "unreasonable" under the 4th Amendment.

The North Carolina Supreme Court decision in State v. Bullock relied on precedent set by the United States Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court has found that a reasonable duration for a traffic stop is the amount of time it takes for police to complete the "mission" of the stop.

The mission includes performing activities that address the traffic violation that prompted the stop and taking other steps that help ensure the police officers' safety, such as:

  • Checking the driver's license
  • Inspecting the vehicle's registration and insurance
  • Searching for outstanding warrants against the driver
  • Asking the driver to exit the vehicle

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a drug dog sniff does not violate the 4th Amendment if it occurs during the reasonable amount of time allotted for completing these activities.

When Can a Police Officer Prolong a Traffic Stop?

If the officer develops a "reasonable suspicion" that other crimes have been committed, it is acceptable to prolong the traffic stop so that a drug dog sniff can be completed.

Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than probable cause. In North Carolina, reasonable suspicion requires that an officer reasonably concludes "in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot."

In the North Carolina Supreme Court decision, the Court found that the officer had formed reasonable suspicion that Bullock was a drug courier. Because the officer formed this reasonable suspicion during the time it took to complete the "mission" of the traffic stop, prolonging the traffic stop did not constitute unreasonable seizure.

About the Author

Josh Valentine

All through my life, I have personally witnessed family members and very close friends endure divorce, child custody battles, bankruptcy, civil lawsuits and even fraudulent criminal accusations. I both saw and experienced the stress such events can place on an individual, and I realized that everyone, at some point in their life, needs hope, comfort, and encouragement. In each one of those situations, the person that was best situated to provide that vital support was their lawyer.  So that's why I became an attorney.  I understand what you are going through—and I'm here to help you.  Our office is focused on meeting your needs and guiding you through what may be the most difficult time of your life. Before attending law school, I worked for a law firm focused on record clearing services, including expungements, pardons, and motions for appropriate relief.  The vast experience and understanding of North Carolina's expungement laws that I have acquired has given me an advantage in defending criminal charges, because not only do I fight for the best possible outcome in your case, but I am also continually conscious of the long term effects that a criminal charge or conviction can have on a person's life.  As such, I will do whatever I can to insure that my clients will not end up with a criminal record.  I was born in New London, Connecticut, but spent the first few years of my life in Dallas, Texas, before moving to Rutherfordton, North Carolina in 2001.  Upon graduating from high school, I attended Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, where I majored in Accounting.  Eager to finish school, I began law school at Charlotte School of Law the day of my graduation from GWU, and completed my law degree in two years (instead of the typical three). During law school, I studied hard and strived to acquire the most experience possible so that I would be practice ready upon graduation.  The opportunities I gained included prosecuting criminal defendants through an externship with the Burke County District Attorney's Office, defending criminal defendants through Charlotte School of Law's Criminal Justice Clinic, and interning with Farmer & Morris, PLLC. I am blessed with a beautiful wife, Gabrielle Valentine, who is an attorney at Farmer & Morris, PLLC, in Rutherfordton, North Carolina.  In my free time, I enjoy helping with the youth group in my church, playing basketball and softball in our local church leagues, serving in the prison ministry, and spending time with my family.  Education: Charlotte School of Law J.D., Magna Cum Laude Class Rank – 21 of 328 Associate Editor of Charlotte School of Law Law Review Certification and Concentration in Employment Law Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society Order of the Crown Pro Bono Honors CALI Awards (Highest Grade)—Lawyering Process I and Contracts I Full Scholarship Gardner-Webb University B.S. in Accounting, Summa Cum Laude Distinguished Senior Student Award – Highest GPA Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honorary Society Bar Admissions: North Carolina State Bar

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