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Delay From Stop to Sniff Faces Check by Justices

WASHINGTON (CN) - A man convicted on meth charges will take his as-yet unsuccessful bid for evidence suppression to the Supreme Court, the justices said Thursday.

Officer Morgan Struble and his K-9 partner Floyd pulled over Dennys Rodriguez in Nebraska just after midnight on March 27, 2012.

Rodriguez had apparently attracted the officer's attention when his car drifted onto the shoulder of the highway and then jerked back onto the road.

Struble said Rodriguez would not make eye contact while explaining that he had swerved to avoid a pothole.

After Struble completed a records check on Rodriguez and his passenger, and issued Rodriguez a written warning, the driver refused to consent to consent to letting Struble walk Floyd around the car.

After a deputy sheriff arrived, Struble walked Floyd around the car. The dog signaled that the car contained drugs, and the officers uncovered a large bag of methamphetamine.

Though Rodriguez claimed that the dog sniff had unreasonably prolonged the stop without reasonable suspicion, in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, a federal judge in Omaha refused to suppress the evidence.

Rodriquez retained his right to appeal that issue but pleaded guilty to one count of possessing with intent to distribute 50 grams of a meth-containing substance.

A three-judge panel with the 8th Circuit affirmed this past January that Rodriguez had no basis to suppress the evidence.

"Although the dog was located in the patrol car, Struble waited to employ it until a second officer arrived, explaining that he did so for his safety because there were two persons in Rodriguez's vehicle," that ruling says. "The resulting seven- or eight-minute delay is similar to the delay that we have found to be reasonable in other circumstances. We thus conclude that it constituted a de minimis intrusion on Rodriguez's personal liberty. In light of our conclusion that the traffic stop was not unreasonably prolonged, we need not decide whether Struble had reasonable suspicion to continue Rodriguez's detention. The order denying the motion to suppress is affirmed."

The Supreme Court granted Rodriguez a writ of certiorari Thursday but issued no comment on the case, as is its custom. It did say that Rodriguez can proceed in forma pauperis.

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