Most everyone has had the unfortunate experience of being pulled over. Whether it be for speeding, not using a signal, expired plates, etc., traffic stops tend to bring a lot of angst for those being pulled over. This is understandable. You may be wondering, can police simply detain you for as long as they want? Do they need your permission? How long can they detain you? In this blog, we look at the basics of a traffic stop and examine just how long a police officer may be able to detain you during a traffic stop.
It should be noted at the beginning that the duration of a lawful traffic stop will depend on the facts of each specific case. There isn’t a “set in stone time” procedure instructing officers as to how long they can detain you. Instead, traffic stops are governed by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That is, the Fourth Amendment protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures” by the government.1 The United States Supreme Court, as well as the Indiana Supreme Court, have held that stopping a vehicle and detaining its occupants is considered a “seizure” for Fourth Amendment purposes.2 As such, during every traffic stop, remember that your Fourth Amendment protects you against unreasonable searches and seizures, but you need to be ready to assert it.
Because traffic stops impact your Fourth Amendment right, there are guidelines in place to protect you. A police officer is allowed to briefly detain an individual for investigatory purposes if, based upon specific and articulable facts, the officer has reasonable suspicion that criminal activity has or is about to occur.3 Furthermore, a police officer’s observation of a traffic infraction provides the requisite reasonable suspicion to justify the initial stop. Thereafter, the detention must be temporary and last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop. Once this purpose has been fulfilled, a police officer may not expand his or her investigation subsequent to the stop unless other circumstances arise after the stop, which independently provide the officer with reasonable suspicion.4 If an officer detains you longer than reasonably necessary, and doesn’t provide specific and articulable facts to support the detention, your Fourth Amendment has been violated.
Some examples to further illustrate the point include a recent U.S. Supreme Court case where the Court ruled that a dog sniff conducted after completion of a traffic stop violates the Fourth Amendment.5 The reasoning was because it “prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the mission of issuing a ticket for the violation.”6 Conversely, in a case several years prior, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a dog sniff conducted during the traffic stop does not violate the Fourth Amendment because the dog sniff did not prolong the time required to complete the mission since it was conducted at the same time.7
Ultimately, whether your rights were violated during a traffic stop will depend on the facts and circumstances of the case. What is important to remember is that you have rights. If you find yourself in trouble, skilled defense counsel is crucial to protect your rights. This blog is written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle the full spectrum of criminal cases throughout Indiana. This blog is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.