How Long Can an Officer Keep Me Detained During a Traffic Stop?


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How Long Can an Officer Keep Me Detained During a Traffic Stop?


We are often asked how long can an officer keep a person detained, or pulled over, during a traffic stop. This analysis does not begin with the roadside detention.

First, the question is “did the officer have a basis to stop your vehicle?”

According to the appellate courts, this means an officer must either have probable cause, or reasonable suspicion supported by specific and articulable facts, that a criminal offense has been or is about to be committed. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21 (1968).

Following a traffic stop, the question is, “how long can the officer keep me detained on the side of the road?”

According to the appellate courts, “[a]n officer’s actions following the stop of a vehicle must be reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.'” Terry, 392 U.S. at 20. The detention “must be temporary and last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop.” Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 500 (1983). The officer should employ the least intrusive means reasonably available in order to dispel the suspicion that gave rise to the stop. Id. “The proper inquiry is whether, during the detention, the officer diligently pursued a means of investigation that was likely to confirm or dispel suspicion quickly. A reasonable traffic stop can become unreasonable if the time, manner or scope of the investigation exceeds the proper parameters.”State v. Brown, 294 S.W.3d 553, 562 (Tenn. 2009).

What does all of this mean? Essentially, the length of time an officer may keep you on the side of the road must be reasonably related to the purpose of the traffic stop.

So, whether it is speeding, following too closely, having a brake light out, or any other alleged traffic offense, can an officer continue to detain you after investigating the purpose of the traffic stop? The answer is maybe. This is analyzed on a case-by-case basis. “If the time, manner or scope of the investigation exceeds the proper parameters,” a legal traffic stop may be transformed into one which violates the Fourth Amendment [of the U.S. Constitution] and article 1, section 7 [of the Tennessee Constitution]. United States v. Childs, 256 F.3d 559, 564 (7th Cir. 2001); see also State v. Morelock, 851 S.W.2d 838, 840 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1992).

An officer may not lawfully continue to detain an individual during a traffic stop (or roadside detention) any longer than necessary to complete the purpose of the stop unless something occurs during the traffic stop that lawfully permits the officer to continue the roadside detention. Every single fact and single event of every traffic stop is critical when analyzing this issue.

Contact the Murfreesboro criminal defense attorneys at Parkerson | Santel PLLC if you are facing a DUI or criminal charge.