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What Can Police Ask During A Stop?

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

After a police officer stops you they cannot question you on matters unrelated to the traffic stop. However, if they have reasonable and articulable suspicion that there is a crime, then the scope of their investigatory powers is extended. Also, if you give them consent then they can continue. So, in short, no, without consent or suspicion, police cannot continue to question you. 

The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. Here is the entire Fourth Amendment of the constitution: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” 

In State v. Sweeney, which is an Arizona court case from 2010, it was determined that an investigatory traffic stop is “temporary” and may “last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop.” How long can a traffic stop last? Well, in Illinois v. Caballes and in the subsequent Rodriguez v. United States the court determined that a traffic stop’s tolerable duration (how long it can go on for) is determined by the seizure’s “mission.” So, in other words, an officer’s mission is to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop. A police officer cannot extend the stop unduly in order to, for example, bring a drug-sniffing dog near the car. However, if the drug-sniffing dog is present they can sniff the vehicle. Per Arizona v. Johnson the seizure (the traffic stop) remains lawful only if “unrelated inquiries do not measurably extend the duration of the stop.” 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.

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.

Per State v. Teagle, an 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.

When can an officer ask you to step out of the car?

One of the most important SCOTUS cases regarding traffic stops and citizens’ rights is Pennsylvania vs. Mimms. This 1977 decision established that an officer can ask someone to step out of their car during a traffic stop if the officer fears for their safety. First, an officer needs to pull you over. They can only do this based on a crime being committed or reasonable suspicion of a crime.

We’re here to defend your rights – Phoenix Criminal Defense Attorneys 

Here are the key takeaways from this article: 

After a police officer runs 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. Phoenix criminal defense attorney Jack 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 us now if your 4th Amendment rights have been violated.