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

Posted by Josh Valentine | Dec 11, 2017

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

You could say Josh has a God-given ability for sustaining long-term relationships. He and his wife first met in elementary school and went to Gardner Webb University (GWU) together, where they tied for number 1 in their class. Then, they both started law school on the same day of their graduation and got married during their first semester. He has also known his law partner Blake Caulder since Kindergarten. Theirs is the perfect partnership. “He’s the brake; I am the accelerator,” Josh says. Both Josh and his wife attended an innovative program at Charlotte Law School that allowed them to complete law school in two years instead of the typical three. His wife graduated and passed the North Carolina bar at age 20, becoming one of the youngest attorneys in the state. He readily admits she’s smarter than him. Of course, Josh went on to pass the North Carolina State Bar himself and later the South Carolina State Bar. While in school, he was Associate Editor of the Law Review and received accolades like Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society membership, Order of the Crown, Pro Bono Honors, CALI Awards (highest grade). In his career as a lawyer, he has been admitted to the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, is a member of the American Association of Premier DUI Attorneys, and completed training for DWI Detection & Standardized Field Sobriety Testing. Josh has also been named to the Top 40 Under 40 for Criminal Defense by The National Trial Lawyers, the Business North Carolina 2019 Legal Elite for Criminal Defense, and the 10 Best Attorneys for Client Satisfaction by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys three years in a row (2016, 2017, and 2018). Community involvement has been important to Josh all his life. In high school, he participated in building a Holocaust museum that has become internationally regarded. He and his wife are actively engaged in animal rescue, which currently means seven cats and two kittens. He served in prison ministry and assisted with fundraiser banquets there, and he provides pro bono and reduced fee legal services to those in need. As if all of that weren’t enough, Josh also mentors high risk youth and helps with his church’s youth group. He participates in other community volunteer projects involving construction, remodeling, drywall, painting, and landscaping. He’s an active student of the Bible and has traveled to Israel, Brazil, and Europe for mission work. No one can say Josh isn’t a well-rounded individual. In his spare time, he likes to play softball, basketball, and tennis, and he can play the piano and trombone. Sometimes on weekends, believe it or not, he enjoys pouring and finishing concrete with friends who own a concrete and grading business. In his law practice, Josh has made it a point to develop positive relationships with officers, clerks, and district attorneys, which has proven invaluable in delivering positive results for his clients. It’s important to him to both listen to his clients and fight for them. Law enforcement officers have important responsibilities to keep our communities safe and uphold the law, but one of the responsibilities of attorneys is to make sure officers do their job correctly. Josh considers it his job to hold them accountable for their actions. Josh is a person of deep faith. He knows that the established order of our universe and strength of America’s Judeo-Christian influenced court system is built on God’s word. His passion to serve each client with innovation, excellence and integrity is a byproduct of his faith. When asked why he became a lawyer, Josh says, “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 who 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.” 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