How long can police detain me for a traffic stop?
Consider a hypothetical: a police officer stops you for a minor traffic violation or suspicion of an Oklahoma DUI charge. He goes through the usual routine of checking your driver's license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance, and they all check out. He writes you a warning about the traffic infraction. You think that the encounter is over, and want to get on your way.
You ask yourself: was it reasonable for the officer to continue the traffic stop once he issued the warning? How long is too long to conduct a routine traffic stop?
Interestingly, earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court examined this very issue, and its conclusion may make a significant difference in how police perform traffic stops in Oklahoma and other states.
The above hypothetical is not just a thought experiment. It really happened to a driver in another state. The driver argued that prolonging the traffic stop without any basis in reasonable suspicion violated his constitutional rights and that accordingly the drug evidence should be suppressed. The prosecution countered that the added time – seven to eight minutes – represented only a “de minimis” intrusion on the driver’s personal liberty and was therefore acceptable. The trial court sided with the prosecution, as did the Court of Appeals.
For its part, however, the US Supreme Court disagreed. In an opinion that found support from both its conservative and liberal Justices, it ruled that unless reasonable suspicion exists for the officer to do a drug search, including a dog sniff, he or she cannot extend a traffic stop to search for drugs in your car. The officer can stop you long enough to complete the "mission" of the traffic stop – for example, to issue you a ticket or warning for the original reason for stopping you – but then must let you go without prolonging the stop in the hope that a dog sniff of your vehicle might turn up something. The Court also disagreed with the prosecution’s argument that if the officer conducting the traffic stop does it “expeditiously” that should somehow grant additional time for a drug search.
In short, performing a dog sniff test is beyond the scope of the mission of a vehicle stop based on a traffic violation, meaning that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution cannot countenance absent grounds for reasonable suspicion for a search.
If you are held longer than you believe is reasonable for a traffic stop, and police use that extra time to do a drug search of your vehicle, you should inform your defense attorney of this – it might make the difference between being convicted of an offense or not.
For more information, visit www.OKDUI.com or http://oklahoma-criminal-defense-lawyer.com/