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How Long Can Police Make a Driver Wait After a Traffic Stop? When Can Police Bring in a Drug Dog to Sniff the Car?

drug dog k9 unit search car ohio driver wait



    During a traffic stop, an officer may delay a driver only for enough time to issue a ticket or a warning. The officer is given time to run a computer search on the driver’s license, registration, and vehicle plates. State v. Norvet, 2016-Ohio-3494.

    To determine if the stop and delay time are reasonable, the court must examine the duration of the stop and all the surrounding details. The officer may continue to hold the defendant if the details of the stop give rise to new possible infractions.

    During Traffic Stop, Search Dog Alerts to Vehicle, Police Find Handgun in Locked Glovebox

    In Norvet, the Defendant was driving north on the highway when an Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper observed the Defendant’s vehicle following a semi-truck too closely and committing a marked lanes violation. A K-9 unit arrived shortly thereafter while the traffic stop was still ongoing, and the search dog alerted to the vehicle. A search of the vehicle revealed a loaded 9mm handgun in the locked glovebox. The Defendant was indicted on one count of improperly handling a firearm in a motor vehicle.

    When Can Police Call for a K-9 Unit?

    If a driver is being lawfully detained – such as during a traffic stop – police can call in a K-9 unit anytime.

    Surprisingly, police do not have to have reasonable suspicion of drug-related activity to bring a drug dog to the scene. State v. Carlson, 102 Ohio App.3d 585, 594 (9th Dist.1995).

    How Long Can Police Make a Driver Wait for a Drug Dog?

    Police cannot, however, make a driver wait an unreasonably long time for a drug dog to arrive or for the dog to sniff the car.  Courts have not said exactly what amount of time is “reasonable” to be held.

    In one case, though, an Ohio Court of Appeals found that a traffic stop that lasted less than 20 minutes involving a drug-sniffing dog was reasonable.  Carlson, 102 Ohio App.3d 585, 594 (9th Dist. 1995)(19 minute stop).

    Here, in Norvet, less than 10 minutes had passed from the traffic stop to the point that the Defendant was read his Miranda rights, at which point the drug dog has already alerted.  The court found this to be reasonable.


     The U.S. Supreme Court held in Rodriguez v. United States that the Fourth Amendment does not allow the police to keep a driver beyond the time it takes to run their plates and write the ticket.  Without reasonable suspicion, keeping a driver for even a “de minimis” amount of time for reasons unrelated to vehicle and driver safety is unconstitutional.

    Courts, then, have to look at whether the drug dog prolonged the stop longer than it would have taken to run the driver’s license/plates and write the ticket.  If the drug dog sniff detained the driver longer than it would have taken to write the ticket, there may be a constitutional issue with the stop.

    If you have been charged with any traffic violations or any other drugs or alcohol related offenses and have questions about defenses related to your legal rights (or other questions), talk to one of our Columbus attorneys about your case at 614-361-2804.

    Written by Anthony M. Iori, Esq., Associate Attorney at Riddell Law LLC