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How Long is Too Long for a Traffic Stop

Jon Artz DUI Attorney Los AngelesIf you’ve ever been stopped by a police officer in Los Angeles, you know the interaction can feel like it takes decades. It can be stressful enough as it stands. But did you know that police officers are legally obligated to perform their duties within a reasonable time frame? By knowing your rights, you’ll be better prepared to face a traffic stop and anything that may happen after being pulled over.

A Closer Look at Lawful Stops

While they remain a grey area, traffic stops are only permitted to transpire within a reasonable amount of time. Consider the guidelines of a lawful traffic stop:

  1. The officer must provide a reason for the stop. A lawful stop might occur if you were speeding. An unlawful stop would be one in which the officer asks you what you’re doing because you look suspicious.
  2. The interaction must not be “prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the initial mission,” as stated in the 2005 Illinois v. Caballes Supreme Court An officer who takes fifteen minutes to issue a speeding ticket is following the law. An officer who makes you wait in the car for an hour and a half to issue a speeding ticket is unlawfully prolonging the stop.

Reasons for Extended Traffic Stops

If an officer has reasonable suspicion to extend a traffic stop, they are permitted to carry out normal procedures to determine whether another crime has been committed. What’s probable cause? In short, it’s reasonable suspicion of a crime. For example, if you’ve been stopped for having a broken tail light and an officer sees drug paraphernalia or smells marijuana, they have probable cause to search your vehicle for drugs. This would not be an example of a prolonged traffic stop.

How to Avoid Being Detained

Just as officers are expected to follow the law, you are too. To make your traffic stop as quick and seamless as possible:

  • Present identification when asked.
  • Answer all questions and speak clearly when talking to officers.
  • Always verbalize your next move. For example, if you are reaching for your wallet and the officer mistakes your action as a threat, you may be unknowingly escalating the situation.
  • Be respectful and courteous.
  • Know your rights. It’s okay to inquire why you are being held.

What to Know After a Prolonged Stop

If you’ve been charged with a felony offense—particularly a DUI—the first thing to do is consult a Los Angeles DUI lawyer. Your attorney will be proficient in the laws regarding prolonged traffic stops and can make a recommendation on contesting the lawfulness of the detention or arrest and/or arguing for a reduced sentence. A case involving unlawful actions on behalf of the police can result in a lesser conviction—or no conviction at all. It will likely come down to the officer’s word against yours unless you have credible witnesses or video evidence of wrongdoing such as overt discrimination, lack of probable cause for search, or prolonged traffic stop.

If you ever get pulled over and detained for what you feel to be an unreasonable length of time, cooperate with the officer but don’t be afraid to ask questions. You may even ask, “Am I being detained?” If you are not being placed under arrest and have finished the conversation regarding the traffic stop, you should be free to go. If you feel you were treated unlawfully or held for an extended period of time after being arrested for DUI, consult an experienced DUI defense attorney to review your case. Contact Jon Artz today at 310-820-1315.

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