This month the City of Checotah settled a case alleging its police officer unlawfully extended a traffic stop in violation of Rodriguez v. United States.
In Rodriguez the Supreme Court held that police cannot prolong a routine traffic stop to conduct an investigation that is unrelated to the mission of the stop itself. In other words, if the police stop you for speeding, they cannot detain you any longer than what is reasonably necessary to check your license and insurance and issue a ticket.
Of course, this does not mean that police cannot develop reasonable suspicion to prolong the stop while writing that ticket. For example, if the police smell marijuana or observe other contraband in plain view, the officer is justified in conducting an investigation related to the discovery of new evidence.
But the true force of Rodriguez lies in preventing fishing expeditions to unnecessarily detain people to search for evidence of other crimes that are not supported by any reasonable suspicion that crime is afoot.
In the case against Checotah, that is precisely what was alleged. The officer in that case stopped the driver for failure to completely stop at a stop sign, issued a ticket, and then asked if he could search the vehicle. The driver said no, and the officer called for a K9. After waiting, the K9 finally arrived and found nothing.
Because the officer had completed the mission of the stop when he issued the ticket, he had no legitimate basis to extend the detention, and the driver’s decision to lawfully refuse a search is not grounds that will ever support suspicion that crime is afoot.
If you have questions about unlawful stops, or extended detentions, contact the attorneys at Bryan & Terrill Law, 918-935-2777.