- Associated Press - Thursday, September 3, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Illegal drugs found in a police search of a man’s car during a Nebraska traffic stop can be used as evidence against him, a federal appeals court found Thursday, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in April that said the search was unconstitutional.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based its ruling Thursday on a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said searches relying on binding precedent are permissible, even if such searches are later deemed unconstitutional by the high court.

It’s the second time the 8th U.S. Circuit has affirmed a federal judge’s decision to allow the evidence in the drug case against Dennys Rodriguez. Rodriguez pleaded guilty in 2012 on the condition that he could withdraw the plea if he succeeded on his appeal to have the evidence thrown out.

Rodriguez was stopped on a Nebraska highway in 2012 and issued a warning for driving on the shoulder. He was then made to wait about 10 minutes after the warning was issued while officers walked a drug-sniffing dog around the car - over Rodriguez’s objections. The dog alerted, and a search turned up methamphetamine in the car.

Last year, the 8th Circuit concluded - based on long-held precedent - that prolonging the stop by several minutes for the dog sniff was a permissible intrusion on Rodriguez’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

But in a split decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that finding, saying that police may not extend an ordinary traffic stop to seek evidence of crimes unrelated to the offense that prompted officers to pull a vehicle over. The high court vacated the 8th Circuit’s first judgment and sent the case back to the appellate court.

On Thursday, the 8th Circuit again affirmed the allowance of the drug evidence, citing the 2011 Supreme Court decision.

“The magistrate judge, the district court, and this court all determined that the seven- or eight-minute delay in this case constituted a de minimis intrusion on Rodriguez’s personal liberty and that Rodriguez’s seizure was lawful under our then binding precedent,” Judge Roger L. Wollman wrote for the three-judge appellate panel. “(T)herefore, the exclusionary rule does not apply because the circumstances of Rodriguez’s seizure fell squarely within our case law, and the search was conducted in objectively reasonable reliance on our precedent.”

John Higgins with the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on specifics of Thursday’s ruling, saying only that his office was pleased with it.

Rodriguez’s federal public defender, David Stickman, did not return phones messages Thursday seeking comment.

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