Rodriguez v. United States — Amicus Brief

Michael Harless Constitutional Law, U. S. Supreme Court

Today, our firm filed an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court, urging that the Fourth Amendment be applied to all searches and seizures of automobiles. We asked the Court to leave no latitude for judges to compromise away the constitutionally-protected civil liberties of Americans to serve the “needs” of law enforcement.

In Rodriguez, a police officer in Nebraska stopped a Mercury Mountaineer occupied by two men that allegedly swerved onto the shoulder and then back onto the road. He wrote them a warning, and returned their licenses and other paperwork, ending the traffic stop. He then asked if they minded if he ran his drug dog around the car. The driver objected, but instead of letting them go, the officer detained them again, ordering them not to move until backup arrived. The drug dog “alerted” on the vehicle and the police found drugs.

Both the district court and the court of appeals determined that, even when the police had no suspicion of wrongdoing, officers are entitled to a detain an automobile sufficiently long to allow a search of the exterior by a drug-sniffing dog. This invasion of the Fourth Amendment’s protections were viewed by these courts as a “de minimis” privacy intrusion, and thus “reasonable.”

Our brief seeks to have the Court expand upon its recent decisions in U.S. v. Jones in 2012 and Florida v. Jardines in 2013, which confirmed that property principles – rather than privacy considerations – are the fundamental basis of the Fourth Amendment. Under the approach we advocate, judges would not have the power to determine that violations of a person’s property right to his “persons, houses, papers, and effects” is permissible if a judge concludes that a person has no “legitimate expectation of privacy,” or if the government’s violation of that privacy was insignificant. Rather, under property principles, any violation – however small – of a person’s property interests in his person, house, papers, or effects is prohibited.

Pursuant to those principles, our brief argued that an unjustified detention of a person – no matter how brief or “de minimis” – violates his property rights in his person, even if he had already been detained, and even though a brief period of continued detention is no great privacy intrusion.

Link to brief