It can be illegal for a police to keep you too long after stopping you for a minor traffic violation like speeding or a busted headlight. But they can keep questioning you if they have reasonable suspicion of a serious crime. The distinction between a lawful police investigation and violation of your Constitutional rights can be the difference between a great case outcome or a potential drug crime prison sentence.

Today, we will look at common reasons police give for extending traffic stops to pursue investigation of other crimes, especially drugs and illegal weapons.

Warning: Almost all these factors seem totally innocent…and our courts readily agree. But sometimes when they are taken together, they give the police enough to conduct a search.

Five Common Reasons To Extend Traffic Stops

As innocuous as they may seem, some or all of these reasons can work to justify a search of your car after a traffic stop:

  • Your destination. Driving to a “drug hub”—so named by police—like Atlanta or Durham can make police suspicious. (If you’re from there, remember it’s them saying bad things about your home town, not us!)
  • Rental cars. This is a factor, especially if the car was rented by someone besides you. Police think that dealers mask ownership to plausibly deny they knew drugs or weapons were in the car.
  • Strange travel plans. Like driving from Georgia to North Carolina at 1:10 A.M. to see your grandma, with no evidence she’s in crisis. (I’m not making this up; it really happened).
  • Officer experience. Reasonable suspicion is based on part on judgment formed by experience and training. The officer’s years of law enforcement service, especially training and experience in drug enforcement, can help a judge decide whether reasonable suspicion is a wild guess or a well-developed theory.
  • The darling of police suspicion—nervousness. Your behavior and demeanor can be a factor in police suspicion. Police sometimes even state suspects did a “felony stretch” getting out of the car, which they claim indicates stress from guilt. (Or maybe you’ve just been driving for a few hours and need to stretch). Luckily, our state Supreme Court recently revealed its impatience with officers blowing this factor out of proportion.

All’s Not Lost

Just because some or all of these factors applied in your case doesn’t mean there’s no hope. You need a trained eye to evaluate whether law enforcement officers were justified keeping you at the traffic stop in the first place. If not, you can win.

Judges look at the whole picture, and every case is different. All the evidence in your case might paint a picture that gets your case dismissed or forces a prosecutor to offer a good plea deal you can’t turn down. A skilled criminal defense lawyer can make the best argument to counter act these facts to get the best outcome for you.

You Need a Defender

Winning these cases is hard, but the stakes for you are high. Worse, the law is complex, based on very precise facts that can happen in a moment. You need a hard-working criminal defense attorney devoted to protecting you who will analyze police reports, review any dash-cam video, and build the most powerful defense to safeguard your freedom. Schedule a free meeting with us now to talk about how we can do that for you by calling (888) 230-1841.


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