A recent traffic stop in Maine bears a sharp resemblance to a traffic stop that the Supreme Court of the United States had decided was a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The case bears particular relevance for police investigations for operating under the influence (OUI) in Maine.
In the morning of August 1, police in Unity saw a car on School Street that did not have a front license plate. They initiated a traffic stop based on the violation.
But instead of just giving the driver a warning or even giving her a ticket for not having a front license plate, the police called in a drug-sniffing dog to investigate.
The dog alerted on the car and the police searched it. Inside, they found:
They charged the 28-year-old driver with driving with an expired registration. The 49-year-old passenger was charged with aggravated drug trafficking.
While there are some crucial facts missing, the case has some distinct similarities to a traffic stop that made its way to the Supreme Court of the United States in 2015.
That case, Rodriguez v. United States, also involved a traffic stop for a minor driving violation – driving on the shoulder for a couple of seconds. In Rodriguez, the police officer collected the license and registration from the driver and passenger and wrote them a written warning for driving on the shoulder of the highway. The process took 21 minutes.
When it was done and the car occupants had their warning and their documents back, the police officer asked for the driver’s consent to walk a police dog around the car. The officer openly admitted at trial that he only had an unsupported hunch, but figured he’d try, anyway. The driver refused to consent to the search. The officer told the driver to turn the car off and stand in front of the vehicle while he did it, anyway.
Six minutes after the officer had finished the traffic stop for driving on the shoulder, his dog alerted on the car. They searched it and found a bag of methamphetamine.
The case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 6-3 vote, they decided that extending a completed traffic stop to conduct a dog sniff, without a reasonable suspicion, violated the Fourth Amendment.
Of course, there are several facts that we don’t have about the traffic stop in Maine, any one of which could have made the search by the police dog permissible. For example, if the driver consented to the search, then the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment disappear.
Stops like these play a huge role in OUI investigations in Maine. Police know that they need to interact with people to get evidence of drunk or drugged driving and that there is no better way to get that interaction than to initiate a traffic stop. No traffic violation is too small.
If you are facing criminal charges in Maine, the attorneys at The Maine Criminal Defense Group are here to help. Call our office to speak with
one of our team members, who will discuss your case with you and set up a consultation with one of our attorneys
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