What many people fail to realize, is that you aren’t obligated to have casual conversations with police when you have been pulled over.
During a routine highway stop for a minor traffic violation, there is NO good reason why it would ever be in your interest to continue chatting with a cop.
In fact, such conversations are often used solely to manufacture an excuse for further action against you. Highway police are trained to use the chats as an opportunity to take stock of alleged “indicators” of criminal activity, including nervous speech patterns, a pulsing carotid artery and inconsistencies in stories. They are also trained to seek permission for warrantless searches.
For example, here is the excerpt from the recent Washington Post article, Highway Seizure in Iowa Fuels Debate about Asset-Forfeiture Laws:
Simmons said he was issuing a warning for the failure to signal. After handing over the paperwork, he said the stop was over. Then he asked the driver, Newmerzhycky, if he had “time for just a couple quick questions.”
Police who specialize in highway interdiction use casual conversations to avoid triggering legal questions about the length of stops. If the conversations are consensual, courts consider the added delay to be legal.
The following exchange between the police officer and the driver is rather instructive:
“Do you got any drugs? ” Simmons asked on the video recording that was later obtained by his lawyer. “Any large amounts of U.S. currency?”
“Absolutely not,” Newmerzhycky said.
“Nothing in there? Could I search your car?”
“I don’t see any reason to. I’m not going to consent to that.”
“Okay. I’m just asking you if I can,” Simmons said.
At this point, the stop is supposed to come to an end and the driver allowed to leave, unless during the consensual conservation the officer has developed a suspicion — one that can be articulated — that a crime has occurred.
Scholars of constitutional law say that a refusal to consent cannot count as suspicious behavior. Nervousness on its own also is not sufficient to justify continued detention, they said.
But rather than release the motorists, Simmons told them he wanted to bring in an officer with a drug-sniffing dog.
“Could I just call him? Do you want to wait? I’ll call him and just run a dog around it real quick.”
“I’d prefer to be on my way. I mean, I’m telling you the truth, there’s nothing in my car,” Newmerzhycky said.
“I’m just asking you if you want to wait for me to run a dog around,” Simmons said. “I’d like to.”
“Do I have the right to say ‘no’ to that?”
“I’d prefer to be on my way.”
At that point, the stop had gone on for almost half an hour. Simmons told Newmerzhycky that you “seem like you were really nervous” and that “I’ve seen your pulse running here.”
Minutes later, Trooper Vanderwiel arrived with the dog, which alerted on the back area of the car. That gave Simmons and Vanderwiel probable cause to search the vehicle without a warrant or the driver’s consent. They found more than $100,000 in cash, most of it shrink-wrapped in plastic.
“I’ll be honest with you, we didn’t find anything illegal, so you are not arrested, right?” Simmons said on the video. “But you are being detained.”
In a recent interview with The Post, Davis, the passenger in the car, said the men lied because they were concerned the police might take the money.
The troopers took the men to a state highway maintenance facility, where they were joined by two state investigators and continued to question the men about the money and examine the car. Two hours later, they let the men go — without their cash.
Davis and Newmerzhycky hired a lawyer and challenged the seizure in Iowa, citing the video of the stop. In September 2013, authorities reversed course and cut a deal to give back 90 percent of the money.
The length of a warrantless stop must be reasonable.
Imagine a police officer pulls over a car for a routine traffic violation, such as speeding or driving with a broken taillight. During the stop, the officer develops a hunch that there may be drugs in the car. He contacts a local K-9 unit and requests a trained drug-sniffing dog; when the unit arrives, another officer will walk the dog around the car to see if it alerts to drugs inside.
Although the Supreme Court has held that the use of the dog is not a search, the length of a warrantless stop must be reasonable. The officer can’t delay the driver forever.
This raises a question of Fourth Amendment law that has led to a lot of lower court litigation: If the officer has no reasonable suspicion that drugs are in the car — that is, he only has a hunch — how long can the traffic stop be delayed before the dog arrives and checks out the car?
Lower courts have generally answered the question by adopting a de minimis doctrine. Officers can extend the stop and wait for the dogs for a de minimis amount of time. But exactly how long is that?
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held in United States v. Rodriguez that seven to eight minutes is de minimis. On the other hand, the Supreme Court of Nevada held a few months ago in State v. Beckman that nine minutes is too long.
The bottom line, do not chat with police office when pulled over and refuse to answer questions. It will never do you any good.