Traffic Stops: How long is too long to be pulled over?
When you are sitting in your car after being stopped by the police, it can feel like an eternity. You might be nervous. You might not know why you were pulled over. You might be running through the worst-case scenarios in your head. Even though a traffic stop may feel like an eternity, it shouldn’t be longer than necessary for the officer to complete the purpose for which he decided to detain you.
A traffic stop must first be valid. Even a standard, routine traffic stop is a seizure of everyone in the vehicle, and it must comply with constitutional requirements. An officer can’t conduct a traffic stop without justification, there must be a reason why the officer is pulling you over. This could be because the officer believes you have committed a traffic violation or that you have engaged in or are about to engage in criminal activity.
For instance, if you were pulled over for a cracked windshield, the officer can issue you are ticket for anequipment violation. An equipment violation is a civil infraction, which is not a crime. The officer can write you a ticket, but doesn’t have reason to arrest you. So, if you are pulled over for a cracked windshield, the officer can detain you temporarily to make a record of the vehicle check, prepare a citation, and quickly issue you the ticket.
The officer may request the registration and proof of insurance of your vehicle, and conduct a check on the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN). During that check, something may pop up that requires further investigation. For example, you may have a warrant for your arrest, or there may be an issue with the vehicle’s registration.
In the scenario where you are pulled over for a cracked windshield, if the LEIN check comes up clear, then you should only be detained for the length of time necessary to write a ticket. Once the purpose for the stop has been completed, no further detention is necessary unless a new issue arises. If there is an issue, the officer may take the evolving circumstances into account and proceed with an investigation to confirm or deny any suspicions he might have.
The traffic stop may be prolonged in a number of scenarios, and there are potential legal issues arising from each. For example, the officer may think that a statement you made was false and want to investigate further. Or, an officer may have a reasonable suspicion that there are drugs in the vehicle and could prolong the stop to get a drug sniffing dog. If a new set of circumstances arises, the officer can extend the stop long enough to resolve the suspicion raised.
If the officer has reasonable suspicion that a person in the vehicle is armed and dangerous, he may order that person to exit the vehicle and pat them down for weapons. This could be justified due to the potential danger that police officers face during traffic stops, and what is considered the minimal intrusion of requiring a lawfully stopped driver to exit the vehicle.
During the traffic stop, the officer might ask for consent to search the vehicle. If consent to search the vehicle is granted, legal questions arise regarding whether the consent is voluntary, and whether the detention is lawful when the consent is given. However, if the consent search leads to the discovery of illegal substances or involvement in other criminal activity, it could result in your arrest.
A traffic stop can be reasonable as long as the driver is detained for the purpose of allowing an office to ask reasonable questions concerning violations of the law and its context for a reasonable period. Officer’s inquiries into matters that are not related to the traffic stop or evolving circumstances may raise issues to be challenged, but the stop may still be lawful so long as the inquiries don’t measurably extend the duration of the stop.
So, how long is too long? The answer is, it depends. Generally speaking, a traffic stop must be limited in scope to the purpose of the stop. If the purpose of the stop is to address a traffic infraction, the stop should not last longer than necessary to effectuate the purpose. An officer may conduct ordinary inquiries incident to a traffic stop, such as checking a driver’s licenses, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. An officer also may also consider evolving circumstances and ask questions related to new suspicions that arise. An officer may ask the driver or a passenger to exit the vehicle where safety is concerned.
If the legality of a traffic stop can be challenged, it could have significant impacts on your case. A successful challenge to the stop in your case could result in a dismissal of the charges against you. With so many factors to consider in determining the lawfulness of a stop, it is important to have a knowledgeable attorney look at the facts of your case. If you are looking for effective legal representation, give Blanchard Law a call to speak with an attorney who can assist you.