The Challenges of Gang Activity and U.S. v Rodriguez
Despite law enforcement’s best efforts, gang activity in Virginia. Gang activity often victimizes innocent bystanders. It poses a real, ongoing challenge for law enforcement. While police do their best to curb gang activity, they have to balance their efforts with the constitutional rights of citizens. Law enforcement must conduct their investigation in a lawful manner. They cannot stop you or stop your vehicle unless they have a lawful reason to do so.
When can police stop a person?
Law enforcement can order a person to stop if they have reasonable suspicion that criminal activity might be afoot. The court looks at the situation from the vantage point of a reasonable person in the officer’s situation. Examples of reasonable suspicion can be if a person seems out of place for the situation or if they’re present at a crime scene. Acting strangely and trying to evade police are two other grounds for reasonable suspicion. Just being present in a high crime area is not reasonable suspicion.
When can police stop a vehicle?
Police also need reasonable, articulable suspicion of a law violation in order to stop a vehicle. That can mean that they believe you violated a traffic law, or it can mean that they suspect you of committing a crime. A law enforcement officer can’t rely on just a gut feeling to stop your vehicle. Rather, they have to be able to articulate what they observe that leads them to believe that you may have violated the law.
After a vehicle stop – the Rodriguez case
When the police stop a vehicle, they can detain it for as long as it takes to investigate the offense. If they suspect you of speeding, they can stop you long enough to check your driver’s license, talk to you and write you a speeding ticket. The traffic stop doesn’t give them free license to investigate you for anything and everything.
In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of U.S. v. Rodriguez. In that case, law enforcement stopped a vehicle for a traffic violation. After the traffic stop, they asked the driver to wait so that a K-9 unit could come sniff around the vehicle. The driver did not agree to wait, and law enforcement told him that he was detained.
The driver waited seven or eight minutes until the K-9 arrived. When it sniffed the vehicle, it indicated for drugs, and law enforcement searched the vehicle. They found drugs and charged the driver accordingly.
The driver challenged the detention and the Supreme Court agreed. They said that law enforcement can’t make a person wait seven or eight minutes beyond the original purpose of the traffic stop. Once the investigation for the traffic offense was complete, law enforcement didn’t have a reason to detain the driver.
Police must respect the Fourth Amendment
All citizens have fourth amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. While law enforcement has an interest in protecting the public, they can’t violate the constitution under the guise of public interest. Instead, law enforcement must perform their duties while they respect the constitution and the rights of citizens.