When Traffic Stops Cannot Lead to Unrelated Drug Search

- Dmitry Gurovich

The Supreme Court recently came out with a decision that legally prevents law enforcement officers from conducting vehicle drug searches when the driver has been stopped on unrelated matters. The decision stemmed from a case involving a driver who was stopped after police observed alleged irregular driving behavior on the road.

Details of the Incident

When stopped by a police officer, the car’s driver explained that he drove off the road to avoid a pot hole. The officer proceeded to check his license and registration and insurance documents. After issuing the driver a ticket, the police officer asked the driver if he could search the car with a drug-sniffing dog. The driver refused but was prevented from leaving until a second officer arrived with a dog to search around the vehicle.

The sniffing search yielded a bag of methamphetamine. The driver was charged and sentenced to 5 years after the trial court and the appellate court both ruled that the prolonged stop of some 7 to 10 minutes and the drug-sniffing search were constitutional despite the accused’s challenge to the legality of the traffic stop and search.

Ruling of the Supreme Court

The high court reversed the appellate court. While a police officer may legally stop a car for speeding or for some traffic violation, the officer cannot conduct an unrelated search or investigation for a potential drug crime.

The Supreme Court sets a limit to the duration of police inquiry during a traffic stop. The tolerable duration of a traffic stop is determined by the ‘mission’ of addressing the traffic violation that warranted the stop. Any authority to seize during a traffic stop must end when the tasks linked to the traffic violation are completed or should have reasonably been completed.

The ruling applies to all police searches throughout the United States — local, state, and federal.

If you or a family member is charged with a drug crime after an unrelated traffic stop, you may be entitled to criminal defenses in your situation.

In California, the criminal lawyers at Gurovich, Berk & Associates have a combined experience of over 35 years in drug crime defense cases. We have helped clients obtain a dismissal or reduction of their charges, and other favorable outcomes for them.

Our criminal defense attorneys also handle DUI/DWI cases, sex crimes, assault, theft, and domestic violence defense cases.

We invite you to call us today at (213) 385-1555 to schedule a free initial consultation.