The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) recently had to correct the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and a district court with its ruling in Rodriguez v. United States. The issues raised in this decision are incredibly similar to the issues I raised before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where I am waiting for the court to grant or deny my petition for en banc review in Rynearson v. United States. In this recent ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that existing Supreme Court decisions made it clear that it was a violation of the Fourth Amendment for law enforcement to detain an individual longer than reasonably required to attend to the mission/scope of the stop (ie the reason justifying the stop in the first place) unless there was individualized suspicion of wrongdoing justifying an extended detention. Here are some of the key similarities and differences between Rodriguez and Rynearson.
But first a key difference. In Rodriguez, the driver was stopped with suspicion of a crime and then after an unlawful detention and investigation, a greater crime was discovered. In Rynearson, the driver was stopped without any suspicion of any crime whatsoever, and no suspicion for any crime at all ever developed during the detention.
Similarities Between Rodriguez and Rynearson:
1. In both Rodriguez and Rynearson, the drivers were seized by law enforcement, and both drivers stood on their rights. In both cases, law enforcement requested (but did not order) the drivers out of their vehicles, and in both cases the drivers refused the request.
2. In both Rodriguez and Rynearson, the district court magistrate judges thought the search and seizure was de minimis, and therefore ruled the encounters permissible. In both cases the district courts adopted the opinion of the magistrate judges.
3. In both Rodriguez and Rynearson, the detentions were closer to a "Terry Stop" than an arrest.
4. Rodriguez and Rynearson both referenced the following Supreme Court decisions: Sharpe, Morgan, Terry, Edmond, Ellis, Mimms, and Arvizu.
5. The SCOTUS said that it had already made the scope of stops clear in Caballes and then reiterated those limits again in Johnson, much as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals made the scope of suspicionless immigration checkpoints clear in Machuca-Barerra and then reiterated those limits again in Portillo-Aguirre.
6. In both Rodriguez and Rynearson, the appeals courts found that the detentions at issue were not justified by individualized suspicion of a crime.
7. In both Rodriguez and Rynearson, existing clearly established law was not recognized or applied at the district court or appellate level.
8. In both Rodriguez and Rynearson, law enforcement did not limit itself to the time reasonably necessary to attend to the mission/scope of the stop.
9. In both Rodriguez and Rynearson, law enforcement extended the detention to pursue investigations that were outside the scope or mission of the stop.
10. In both Rodriguez and Rynearson, the detentions were not considered Terry stops, and yet Terry jurisprudence still informed the limits of the scope and mission of the stops and the duty of law enforcement to be diligent.
Differences Between Rodriguez and Rynearson:
1. Rynearson involved a detention without any suspicion of any crime whatsoever, while Rodriguez involved an initial detention based on reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation (swerving).
2. In Rynearson, the driver was not breaking the law, whereas in Rodriguez the driver broke a traffic law and was also smuggling a large quantity of illegal narcotics.
3. In Rynearson the driver was detained for 34 minutes in total, while the overall detention of the driver in Rodriguez was less than thirty minutes.
4. In Rodriguez, the irrelevant detention (beyond the scope or mission of the stop) was 7 to 8 minutes. For Rynearson the irrelevant detention (beyond the scope or mission of the stop) was at least 23 minutes (and in reality was closer to 33 minutes).
5. In Rodriguez, the driver was asked if a drug dog could be run around his car and the driver refused. In Rynearson, the driver was not asked for permission and the drug dog was simply run around his car anyway.
6. In Rodriguez, the drug dog alerted to drugs. In Rynearson, the drug dog did not alert.
7. In Rodriguez, the driver was charged with a crime. In Rynearson, the driver was not charged with a crime.
8. And now for a very important difference: The Supreme Court of the United States stated that suspicionless checkpoint stops like the stop in Rynearson were ordinarily a violation of the Fourth Amendment's stricture against "unreasonable searches and seizures" since drivers were seized absent individualized suspicion of any crime, but the High Court made an exception to that rule and justified the exception by guaranteeing that these exceptional stops would be brief and present a "quite limited" intrusion into inquiring into immigration status only, and assured Americans that this breathtaking change would be no big deal (ie de minimis) since any detention beyond the brief time to inquire into immigration status would require probable cause for a crime or the consent of the driver. This differs from stops, like the initial stop in Rodriguez, which are based on reasonable suspicion of a crime and therefore do not violate the Fourth Amendment, so long as they stay focused on the mission or scope of the stop, as they are based on individualized suspicion of a crime.
As it stands now, however, due to recent about-face judicial practice at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (despite clearly established law to the contrary in that circuit), Americans have less protection when law enforcement forces itself into their lives without suspecting them of any crime, than Americans have when they are detained by law enforcement who have detained them with individualized suspicion of law breaking. How is that even remotely possible given the Supreme Court carving out these exceptions in Martinez-Fuerte decades ago? That's a great question.
Hopefully the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will correct the panel majority's unorthodox decision in Rynearson v. United States to bring it into accordance with both clearly established Fifth Circuit precedent and multiple rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States.
My 28J letter to the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals mentioning this recent SCOTUS decision can be found here.