Sunday, August 12, 2018

20 seconds of questioning unlawfully extends traffic stop



When does unrelated questioning “measurably extend” a traffic stop such that it becomes unlawful under United States v. Rodriguez

In United States v. Lujan, 2018 WL 3742452, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 132229, the District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee found that 20 seconds of unrelated questioning is enough. An officer had stopped defendant's vehicle because the officer was unable to read the vehicle’s tag. As the officer approached the vehicle, he saw that the tag was legal. (Note: the Lujan court recognized at this point that under Tenth Circuit precedent the officer “would have been permitted to merely explain the reason for the stop but then let Defendant ‘continue on [his] way without requiring [him] to produce [his] license and registration.’”). The traffic stop quickly turned into a 20 second “roadside interrogation”: “why are you nervous?”, “where do you work?”, are the van’s passengers “legal”? 
 
The Lujan court acknowledged that those 20 seconds of investigative questioning unrelated to the stop’s purpose were “brief.” But “Rodriguez is not focused on vaguely assessing time, measuring it against arbitrary notions of what constitutes promptness.” Rather, “Rodriguez requires that courts look at the officer’s actions and determine whether he inevitably prolonged the stop beyond its original mission.” Hence the Court’s conclusive holding that those 20 seconds of unrelated, investigative questioning measurably (and therefore unlawfully) extended the traffic stop. 

Motion to suppress granted. 

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