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Law & Justice

Idaho Supreme Court calls 19-second delay for a drug dog sniff unconstitutional

A room inside the Idaho Supreme Court with multiple empty chairs and two flags.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

A recent Idaho Supreme Court decision further made clear that police can’t detain someone longer than what’s necessary to complete a stop, even including delays measured in seconds.

In 2017, a Kootenai County sheriff’s deputy stopped a vehicle outside Post Falls for traffic violations. The deputy saw the vehicle leave a suspected drug house.

The deputy also previously testified in the case that he recognized the driver’s name based on previous drug investigations.

While on his way to check the driver’s license and registration, he took 19 seconds to call for a drug dog.

Deputies later found meth, marijuana and drug paraphernalia on the passenger, Desiree Karst. They later found more drugs on her at the county jail.

Karst eventually was sentenced to two years of probation after a district court partially denied her attempt to suppress evidence found during the traffic stop. The Idaho Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court’s ruling.

But last week, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that delay was unconstitutional.

“The fact that Karst was held for a mere nineteen seconds more than she should have been matters not for Fourth Amendment purposes — there is no exception for unjustified … intrusions,” wrote the majority.

The three justices relied on several cases to base their decision, including the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case Rodriguez v. United States.

“The Supreme Court says you can’t just call for a drug dog because it detains somebody longer than the purpose of your stop,” said Sam Newton, a law professor at University of Idaho.

Newton said police need more probable cause or a warrant to call for a drug dog unless the sniff can be conducted in the same amount of time as the original stop would normally take.

The majority in the 3-2 decision said the Fourth Amendment doesn’t make exceptions for unjustified searches – even if they’re only 19 seconds long.

The two dissenting justices called the opinion “unworkable in the real world.”

“I await with interest the future cases we may see involving a one-second delay because the officer sneezed, or a few seconds of additional time necessary for an officer to find a pen to write a citation,” wrote Chief Justice Bevan.

Newton said he understands Bevan’s argument and that society expects law enforcement to handle a whole host of responsibilities.

“We want the police to focus on why they stopped somebody and to not be fishing around unless they have really good reason to be fishing around,” he said of his takeaway from last week’s ruling.

The case now returns to the district court for further action.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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