Maybe. But it’s a big maybe that can be the difference between possibly getting your charges dismissed, instead of your being convicted for the evidence they found in the search, like drugs or weapons.

Searches after traffic stops can result when police keep questioning you about things unrelated to the stop, which can end up in police searching the car to find evidence of crime. Sometimes people even agree to have their cars searched in this situation. We call this “extending the traffic stop.”

The real question is, what gives police the right to do that? And what happens if they violate your right against it? Let’s take a look at what you need to know.

Limits on the Police’s Authority at a Traffic Stop

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, a traffic stop is over when it’s over. In a routine traffic stop, the officer can:

  • Request your license and registration,
  • Run a check of your driving and criminal records, and
  • Issue a ticket.

That’s it. Once he tells you you’re getting a ticket, the stop is over and you should be free to go.

Keeping you at the scene after that to ask you more questions is illegal unless the officer has reasonable suspicion of a serious crime. Note the exception. The officer can keep you for questioning unrelated to the stop for reasonable suspicion of another crime. The legal system struggles with a clear definition of “reasonable suspicion.” Basically, it means reasons, supported by facts, that he suspects you of another crime.

But what if he has no facts and keeps questioning you anyway until you finally give in and let him search?

The Consequences of Unjustifiably Extending a Stop

It’s a game-changer: The entire search is void, even if you consented to it. All evidence of any crime is thrown out, including any statement you made—even if you confessed.

The Stakes Are High and the Law Is Complex

Our state Supreme Court describes extending a traffic stop as undetectable by ordinary folks like you. You’re no legal technician, so you don’t know whether you’re free to leave or not, especially faced with a man with a badge and a gun. And the law is very complex.

You need a trained criminal defense attorney experienced in drug defense. No one wants to let somebody caught “red handed” go. You need a sharp criminal defense lawyer who can spot the facts because he knows the law, and who is able to present your side of the story convincingly to a skeptical prosecutor and possibly a judge. And the stakes couldn’t be higher for you. A successful argument here could be the difference between the stain of conviction—and even prison time threatened by most drug charges—or thanking your lucky stars and moving on with life after a dismissal or a plea deal you can live with.

Send us an email from where you are now so we can schedule a free meeting to start building your defense.


Rob Usry
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Rob is a Spartanburg personal injury lawyer. Rob also practices as a workers' compensation attorney.