Asking for Consent to Search During a Traffic Stop

Suppose an officer conducts a traffic stop. During the stop, the officer gets a hunch that the driver may have drugs in the car. Can the officer ask the driver for consent to search the car? Even without reasonable suspicion? Does the time it takes to ask for consent, or the time it takes to conduct the search, unlawfully extend the stop? I’ll try to answer these important questions in this post.

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Extending Traffic Stops to Wait for Other Officers

May an officer prolong a traffic stop to wait for a second officer to come to the scene? An officer may want another officer present to provide backup, or may need assistance from an officer who speaks Spanish, is proficient at administering Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, or is a certified Drug Recognition Expert. Under Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. __ (2015), a traffic stop may last no longer than necessary to complete the “mission” of the stop — addressing the traffic violation that prompted the stop while attending to officer safety. When waiting for another officer is part of the mission of the stop is a question with which courts across the country are grappling.

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Myers McNeill and What Happens When Reasonable Suspicion Dissipates

Last week, the court of appeals ruled that during a traffic stop, an officer may require a driver to produce his or her license and may run computer checks on it — even when the reasonable suspicion that initially supported the traffic stop has been dispelled before the officer asks for the license. This issue comes up regularly and has divided courts in other jurisdictions, so I thought it worth discussing here.

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Supreme Court of North Carolina: Officer Did Not Improperly Extend a Traffic Stop by Frisking a Driver and Ordering the Driver into a Patrol Car

In 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. __, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015). Rodriguez held that it was improper for an officer to extend a traffic stop for several minutes in order to conduct a dog sniff of the stopped vehicle. More generally, the decision requires an officer to pursue the “mission” of a traffic stop diligently, without measurably extending the duration of the stop for investigative activity unrelated to the purpose of the stop.

Our court of appeals has issued several decisions under Rodriguez, including some in defendants’ favor. Everyone has been waiting for those cases to make their way to the state supreme court. Now one has, and it turns out that the supreme court’s understanding of Rodriguez differs considerably from the view adopted by at least some panels of the court of appeals.

The case in question is State v. Bullock, __ N.C. __, __ S.E.2d __, 2017 WL 5017435 (2017), and this post explores it further.

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May an Officer Run a Motorist’s Criminal Record During a Traffic Stop?

An officer who stops a motorist for a traffic infraction may run a computer check on the driver’s license and may check for outstanding warrants. The results of these checks may determine how the officer proceeds. For example, if a check reveals that the driver’s license is revoked, the officer may charge the driver with DWLR and may direct the driver that he or she cannot drive the vehicle away from the location of the stop.

May an officer also check a motorist’s criminal record? Such historical information is less likely to dictate the officer’s course of action. But knowing whether a motorist has a record of violent crimes may help an officer determine how cautious he or she must be while completing the stop. This post discusses whether an officer may take time to run a motorist’s criminal record, and summarizes two recent cases on point.

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Body-Camera Footage Leads to Plain Error Reversal in State v. Miller

My colleagues here have previously blogged about the impact of Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), and my predecessor Alyson Grine created a handy chart summarizing North Carolina cases on the matter, found here. Rodriguez of course held that a traffic stop may not be extended beyond the time necessary to accomplish the purpose of the stop, absent reasonable suspicion or consent, and effectively overruled prior case law in NC allowing de minimis extensions of such stops. In December, the Court of Appeals issued a new, unanimous decision applying this rule in State v. Miller, ___ N.C. App. ____ (Dec. 20, 2016), temp. stay allowed, ___ N.C. ___ (Jan. 4, 2017). I found it noteworthy for the role that the officer’s body-camera footage played, as well as for the fact that the court applied plain error review to grant the defendant a new trial. 

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Post-Rodriguez North Carolina Appellate Cases at a Glance

By now, most court actors are familiar with the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Rodriguez v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (April 21, 2015) (discussed in a prior post) that a law enforcement officer may not extend a traffic stop to investigate matters unrelated to the mission for the stop–that is, to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop and attend to related safety concerns–unless the extension is supported by reasonable suspicion. Defense attorneys and other court actors were curious to see how North Carolina appellate courts would analyze this significant new limitation on the scope of traffic stops.

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Court of Appeals Rules That Officer Had Reasonable Suspicion to Extend Traffic Stop

Jeff Welty in his post here yesterday discussed last week’s North Carolina Court of Appeals ruling in State v. Bedient. Today, I will discuss another ruling decided on the same day: State v. Castillo. Both cases are post-Rodriguez cases with different outcomes, with Bedient resulting in a ruling for the defendant and Castillo a ruling for the State.

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Court of Appeals Finds Extension of Traffic Stop Unsupported by Reasonable Suspicion

Last week, the court of appeals decided State v. Bedient, a significant post-Rodriguez opinion on traffic stops. The court ruled that an officer lacked reasonable suspicion to extend a stop by a few seconds to ask the driver for consent to search. This post summarizes and analyzes the case.

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