I would love to be the proverbial fly on the wall when police instructors teach this rule to officers who make traffic stops.” — Justice Alito dissenting in Rodriguez v. U.S. (2015) .
Mr. Rodriguez, tooling along a Nebraska highway at around midnight, turned onto the shoulder of the road “for one or two seconds.” A cop, horrorstruck by this reckless hot-rodding, pulled him over and busted him for illegally “driving on a highway shoulder.”
After a mere 20 minutes of making computer checks on Mr. R. and his passenger and interrogating them about why they had gone to Omaha, what they had done there, and where they were going now, the cop issued a traffic ticket. Then he made them wait around some more while he went to get a sniffing dog who nosed out a bag of meth.
Waiting for Snoopy unreasonably prolonged the stop, said Justice Ginsburg, reasoning that while cops can check out a car’s registration, “a dog sniff is not fairly characterized as part of the officer’s traffic mission.” The meth had to be suppressed.
Justice Scalia joined her opinion, knowing firsthand how annoying it is to be kept waiting to be issued a traffic ticket.
But Justice Thomas dissented that “an overwhelming odor of air freshener,” combined with the passenger’s looking “more nervous than your typical passenger,” plus not giving a good enough explanation of why they went to Omaha added up to reasonable suspicion. After all, the Framers of the Constitution never intended the Fourth Amendment to protect using air freshener, let alone going to Omaha without probable cause.
Justice Alito chimed in, saying that the decision was “perverse” and that cops would secretly figure out a way to get around it. He longed to be “the proverbial fly on the wall” (though not in the ointment) during the next police training. There was a blinding flash and he was instantly transported to Nebraska.
Scene: Nebraska Police Academy.
Instructor: Today’s lesson is how to make a traffic stop for Driving While Hispanic that passes constitutional mustard. Carstairs, stop flailing your arms!
Officer Carstairs: Can’t help it, sir, there’s a gigantic black fly buzzing around my head.
Instructor: Ignore him, it’s only Justice Alito. Your Honor, I suggest you stay on the wall for your own safety. Now, who can tell me how Rodriguez v. U.S. has altered the jurisprudential landscape, Fourth Amendment-wise?
Officer Krupke: Exemplary of a crypto-originalist approach masquerading as textualist interpretivism, if you ask me, sir.
Justice Alito: Bzzzzz!
Officer Dangle: With all due respect, Officer Krupke’s analysis fails to take into account the evolving consensus of emanations and penumbras.
Justice Alito: Bzzzzzzzzzzz!
Officer Williams: If the cop would of just brought the dog over when he stopped the car, the Court wouldn’t of had to write all that megillah.
Justice Alito: Bzzzzz! Bzzzzz!
Officer Dangle: Who needs a dog when we can do the sniffing ourselves? Just the other day I stopped a car and detected the odor of marijuana emanating from the closed trunk. Gave me reasonable suspicion to tear the whole car apart.
Instructor: Did you find any pot?
Officer Dangle: No, but I did find an outdated credit card.
Justice Alito: Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz! Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!
Officer Carstairs: (Swatting) Dammit, I don’t care who you are, you’re driving me nuts! Justice Alito falls off the wall.