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Can Police Continue to Question You About Topics Unrelated to the Traffic Stop After the Purpose for the Traffic Stop is Over?

No, they cannot continue to question you without independent reasonable articulable suspicion that crime is afoot or your consent.

The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures.[1] An investigatory traffic stop, is “temporary” and may “last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop.”[2] A traffic stop’s tolerable duration is determined by the seizure’s “mission,” which is to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop.[3] The seizure remains lawful only “so long as unrelated inquiries do not measurably extend the duration of the stop.”[4] Beyond determining whether to issue a traffic ticket, an officer’s mission during a traffic stop typically includes checking the driver’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof of insurance.[5]

After an officer has effectuated the purpose of the stop, the officer must allow a driver to continue on their way “without further delay or questioning” unless (1) the encounter becomes consensual; or (2) reasonable articulable suspicion has developed during the encounter suggesting criminal activity is afoot.[6]  The encounter may be considered “consensual” if the driver agrees to answer additional questions after the conclusion of the traffic stop, which may allow for an extension of the stop and would be deemed consensual as long as a reasonable person would feel free to disregard the police and go about his/her business.[7]

Officers may, for safety purposes, ask someone to step out of a vehicle during a traffic stop.[8] After they run your ID, and the vehicle info, if there are no issue with either—they need to decide whether to issue a traffic ticket or let you go. If they decide they are going to ticket you, they must focus exclusively on finishing the ticket and letting you go. They do not get to fish around and start asking you questions unrelated to the ticket. If, within the time that it took the officers to do all of the above, no reasonable suspicion of another crime arose then they need to let you go. Once they have completed the ticket or said they will be issuing a ticket, politely ask them to provide you with the ticket so you may be on your way.  Ask if you are free to leave. DO NOT CONSENT TO A SEARCH.

Mr. Litwak regularly litigates search and seizure violations. His ability to spot the issues and aggressively lock down the violations in interviews and evidentiary hearings has led to numerous case dismissals. Call now if your 4th Amendment rights have been violated.

[1] United States Constitution, Fourth Amendment.

[2] State v. Sweeney, 224 Ariz. 107, ¶ 17, 227 P.3d 868, 873 (App. 2010)

[3] Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405, 407, 125 S.Ct. 834, 160 L.Ed.2d 842.

[4] Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323, 330, 129 S.Ct. 781, 172 L.Ed.2d 694.

[5] Rodriguez, 135 S. Ct. 1609, at 1611.

[6] State v. Teagle, 217 Ariz. 17, ¶ 22 (App. 2007)

[7] State v. Angulo-Chavez, 247 Ariz. 255, 448 P.3d 296, 299 (Ct. App. 2019)

[8] Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 98 S.Ct. 330, 54 L.Ed.2d 331.

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