How long can Law Enforcement Detain you?

Just Recently I was asked to review several cases where law enforcement officers had made traffic stops that have resulted in K-9 searches of the vehicles they have stopped.

Most of us at one time or another have unfortunately been stopped by a police officer for some type of traffic violation.  The experience is usually providing the officer with your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. Which is what we expect these officers to do.  The officer either warns you or writes a ticket and sends you on your way.

Arizona v. Johnson stated that a lawful traffic stop begins when a vehicle is pulled over for investigation of a traffic violation.  The temporary seizure of driver and passenger ordinarily continues and remains reasonable for the duration of the traffic stop.  Normally, the stop ends when the police have no further need to control the scene and inform the driver and passengers they are free to leave.

What this means is that the law enforcement has the right to stop you and ask questions related to the reason for the stop and may conduct certain inquiries related to the traffic stop the officer may not conduct an investigation that is beyond the reason for the stop.  The officer has the right to detain you for as long as it takes for them to make sure that your driver’s license is valid, the registration is current and it’s the registration for the vehicle that you are operating. The officer may check for any outstanding warrants for the driver and any occupants of the vehicle.

The United States Supreme Court has concluded that an officer may not detain you any longer than it takes to investigate the reason for the stop and to issue any citation related to that stop.

Now that doesn’t mean that a law enforcement officer can’t go beyond the reason for the traffic stop.  That can change if the officers find independently supported, reasonable suspicion while they have the vehicle stopped. This often happens in DUI cases where a police officer stops a vehicle for failure to stop at a stop sign or some other traffic violation and when he makes contact with the driver and then smells a strong order of alcohol coming from the driver. The officer is then allowed to proceed to investigate if the driver is under the influence. 

Using the same scenario, the officer stops a vehicle that has failed to stop at a stop sign and upon approaching the driver the officer smells a strong order of marijuana coming from the vehicle. The officer has a right to prolong the stop and investigate until a drug K-9 arrives at the scene.

We as a community expect our officers to make our roadways safe and want them to follow up with this type of investigation.

The cases I have been asked to review lately have been someone stopped for speeding and without any documented information as to reasonable suspicion as to why that officer felt that the person he has detained may be in the possession of illegal narcotics, summons a drug K-9 to his stop.

When investigating this type of stop, the things I require to review are the police reports, the Computer Assisted Device (CAD) report, car dash video and the dispatch recordings.

What I am looking for; is did the officer articulate in his report the reason for prolonging the stop, and if he/she did what the reason was for prolonging the stop. Idaho case, State v. Gutierrez 51 P.3rd 461, is a case from Soda Springs Idaho where the officer stopped Gutierrez for speeding, after the officer issued the warning and returned his driver’s license and registration, the officer impermissibly continued the detention by questioning Gutierrez about drugs, weapons and other matters unrelated to the stop without telling him he was free to leave.

I also reviewed the CAD report.  This is a computer-generated timeline as to what happened during this stop. At what time did the officer run the driver’s license, registration and wants and warrants inquiry’s related to when they stopped the vehicle. Does it appear that they are prolonging the stop?

Unfortunately, the CAD system is a coded system which makes it very difficult to read, unless you understand law enforcement codes and acronyms.

I also review the dispatch communication with the officer. This is very important as it contains what the officer and the dispatcher were saying and doing during this stop.

I just recently reviewed such communication after the attorney had reviewed it and he couldn’t find anything that he felt relevant to this case.  During my review of the communication I heard the dispatch relay to the officer on the stop that the K-9 was out on another call at this time and would respond to his location as soon as possible.

This is a very important piece of documented communication between the officer and dispatch that prove the officer intentionally prolonged this traffic stop allowing time for the K-9 to arrive.

Communication between the dispatcher and officer is sometimes difficult to understand especially if it is something you haven’t listed to for years.

Just a few weeks ago I was helping a friend with a vehicle that wouldn’t start. It would turn over but the engine would never fire up. I know a mechanic and I asked him if it was a fuel problem or an ignition problem.  He asked me when we try to start the engine and it’s turning over is it a hard knock or a soft knock. I told him I didn’t know the difference between a hard knock or soft knock. This is the same with someone untrained in Law Enforcement terms and slang.

I was a law enforcement officer for over thirty years and I listened to police communications for all of those years. I have a trained ear when it comes to that type of communication and there are certain words or phrases that you key on.

Using the CAD report to showed that the officer ran his driver’s inquiry’s shortly after stopping the vehicle. The car video showed the officer  just sitting in his patrol car waiting for the drug dog to arrive, and the recorded dispatch conversation advising him that the drug dog was unavailable at the time he requested, I was able to show that the traffic stop was excessively prolonged by the officer.

The United States Supreme Court has stated that an investigative detention “must be temporary and last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose the stop” Royer,460 500,103 S. Ct. at 1325 75 L.Ed.2d at 238.

An individual “may not be detained even momentarily without reasonable, objective grounds for doing so”.

SR Investigations is Idaho's private investigator with over 40 years of detective experience.
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S. Robinson & Associates is Idaho's foremost private investigator serving Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Nampa & southern Idaho.
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Stuart Robinson is Idaho's most experience private investigator.
Stuart Robinson
Former Idaho Department Of Law Enforcement Lead Investigator
Prolonged Traffic Stops in Idaho
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