If a motor vehicle is stopped by an officer for the purpose of discussing a traffic violation, such as speeding, or improper lane changing, or for an investigation, the officer may ask the driver to leave the vehicle. Technically, the driver’s removal from the vehicle is classified as a seizure or detention of the driver. This is a critical distinction to make because if the driver exits the vehicle the officer is able to make observations that can lead the officer to believe that the driver is impaired in some way. During the process of detention, the officer has the opportunity to obtain additional information used to support a belief regarding impairment. When taken together, these observations may form the basis of probable cause for arrest.
This is why the length of the detention is so critical. An officer may lawfully stop a citizen only long enough to accomplish the “purpose of the stop”. A great example of a reasonable timeframe for this has to do with an individual who is being stopped for a traffic violation. The officer can reasonably detain the individual for a period of time to write a ticket or a citation. In a DUI case, this may involve testing procedures or even waiting for additional officers to arrive on scene. If the stop is for investigation purposes, the officer can legally and reasonably detain someone for a period of time that is long enough to either dispel or confirm a reasonable suspicion. Unless additional facts develop during the reasonable time period for initially detaining the person, the officer cannot continue to hold such a person.
One of the biggest challenges in the law has to do with stopping to inspect tags, becausedistrict courts have not arrived at the same conclusion. While the Second District Court of Appeals found that an officer has no right to detain someone once it is clear that the tag is valid, the Fourth and Fifth District Courts of Appeal determined that the officer can engage in other activities beyond that point.
When the Florida Supreme Court heard the issue, it held that the officer can verify the validity of the tag and only continue personal contact with the driver to explain the initial reason for the stop. Unless there are independent grounds that develop to lead the officer to believe that the detention should be continued, the officer should release the individual after the validity of the tag has been confirmed and the reason for the initial stop has been explained.
As you can see, stops and detention by law enforcement (or government representatives in general) are evolving issues in the law and they can be quite complex. This is why it’s so critical to have a criminal defense attorney walk you through the specifics of your case step by step, because details are critical in determining whether you were detained improperly. If you believe that you may have been detained too long during a stop, this can be an important factor in your criminal defense and you need to share it with your criminal attorney. At Koberlein Law Offices we are continually investing in our research of new judicial decisions so that we can provide defenses that are consistent with the latest rulings from the appellate courts.