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Mr. Legal Mustache's "How About?": Traffic Stop Edition!

Posted by Brandon Lauer | Dec 18, 2018 | 0 Comments

A Brief Layout on the Law

Article 1, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution reads just like the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. How does this apply to a traffic stop? Well, a police officer needs reasonable, articulable suspicion to pull you over. Fair enough, usually violating some traffic law will satisfy this. However, some of you out in the layman audience may not realize that a police officer is limited at this point; as in, he or she can't just simply do as they please. The specific issue I want to discuss here (I'm going to arm you with the weapon of knowledge!) is "expansion of a traffic stop." 

Expansion of a traffic stop? Sounds complicated. In certain cases, it might be. But the concept is simple. Article 1, Section 10 of the MN Constitution requires the police to "have reasonable articulable suspicion to expand the scope of a routing traffic stop in order to investigate other matters unrelated to the reason for the stop and to request consent to search." State v. Askerooth, 681 N.W.2d 353, 370 (Minn. 2004). Oh please Mr. Legal Mustache, give us the non-legalese version. Ok, at it's bare bones, the police need some actual reason to investigate crimes other than what you were pulled over for, and the police need some independent basis to even ask you if they can search your car (unless the initial basis for the stop supports the request to search).

Mr. Legal Mustache's "How About This Scenario?"

Let's play a game. I'm going to give a hypothetical situation, and tell you whether such actions by the police would likely be OK or not.

Driver: fails to stop at stop sign.

Mr. Police Officer: *whooo-whoooo, pulls them over*: Good afternoon, you didn't stop for that stop sign, all right I'm gonna need you to step out of the vehicle and may I search your car?

Analysis: Unless there was more than a simple failure to stop at a stop sign, the officer cannot ask for consent to search. The traffic stop must be limited to the reason he pulled you over: you failed to stop at the big red STOP sign. He needs to develop some independent basis to expand it further than that.

Driver: driving 64 in a 55. 

Mr. State Patrolman: *whoooo-whoooo, pulls them over*: Do you know how fast you were going bucker? I caught you red-handed going 64 in a 55, oh my! Time to blow into my almighty breathalyzer! * 0.08* Oh no, you're done for!

Analysis: Now let's assume that other than speeding, there is absolutely no reason to suspect that the driver has been drinking. It is not OK for the officer to expand the scope of a stop to investigate drunk driving for the mere fact that he was speeding. Could you imagine having to blow into a breathalyzer every time you get pulled over for speeding? Yikes!

Well, Thanks Mr. Legal Mustache, I'll Be Able to Defend My Rights Next Time I Get Pulled Over, But Tell Me: Why Do I Need a Lawyer?

The old saying goes something like "the man who represents himself has a fool for a client." Be honest, how many of you (non-attorneys) know how to get illegally gathered evidence thrown out of court? Do you even know the various ways that a police officer can actually illegally acquire evidence? Did you know before you read this piece that a police can't just ask you to search your car without an actual articulable and reasonable basis for asking?

Well, if you didn't, then of course you should hire a lawyer. In fact, sometimes, getting a piece of evidence thrown out of court can spell the end of the State's case against you. In a situation like that, spending the money on the lawyer is well worth it compared to the potential time stuck in jail or prison, the court fines, and not mention the collateral consequences such as losing your job and being a convicted felon.

If you or a family member are charged with a crime, don't be a fool and represent yourself: call me at (651) 337-9876 or email me at [email protected]

About the Author

Brandon Lauer

-Mitchell Hamline School of Law, Juris Doctor, Magna Cum Laude -University of Minnesota Duluth, B.A. Political Science, Cum Laude -During law school, I spent time as a Student Attorney at both the State Public Defenders and the Wright County Public Defenders Offices -I also law clerked under b...

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