Chicago Police Cannot Legally Detain You Because You're Nervous

Police Carrying HandcuffsIf you operate a vehicle for long enough, you will likely get pulled over at some point. Most of the time, a traffic stop is short in length and you can be soon on your way. But what happens if the officer detains you beyond the time it takes for a normal traffic stop just because you seem to be nervous? Is it legal to be detained for that? The following explains when further detention is considered wrongful.

Random Traffic Stops Are Not Lawful

Contrary to how it may sometimes appear to citizens, a law enforcement officer is not allowed to simply make random traffic stops. An officer must have a valid legal reason for the stop. The law requires an officer to have a “reasonable suspicion” that a motorist has violated a law in order to effectuate a traffic stop. The reasonable suspicion standard, however, sometimes results in a particular set of circumstances being interpreted differently by different judges. It basically requires that an officer have “specific and articulable facts” that warrant the intrusion into a citizen’s life. Weaving in and out of traffic, failing to signal a turn, and speeding is examples of driving behaviors that frequently trigger a legal traffic stop.

Pretextual stops can even meet the “reasonable suspicion” standard. A pretextual stop is one in which an officer uses a very minor violation, such as a non-working taillight or hanging air freshener, as the articulated reason for a traffic stop when, in fact, the officer suspects that another criminal activity is occurring in the vehicle.

How Long Can the Police Detain You during a Traffic Stop?

Assuming that a law enforcement officer makes a legal stop of a vehicle, how long is the officer allowed to detain the driver? This is where a traffic stop can become complicated. Once a motorist is stopped, the officer can only detain the motorist for as long as it reasonably takes to conduct the investigation based upon the original reason for the stop. If you were stopped for speeding, for instance, the officer could detain you for the length of time it takes to run your license and registration and write you a citation. Once the original reason for the stop has concluded though, the officer must allow the motorist to leave unless the officer has probable cause to further detain the motorist.

When Can I Be Detained Past the Original Traffic Stop?

Sometimes, a law enforcement officer becomes suspicious before or during a traffic stop that something more is going on within the vehicle. When that is the case, the officer may wish to extend the investigation and/or conduct a search. Although vehicle searches fall into an exception to the warrant requirement found in the 4th Amendment, an officer is still required to have “probable cause” to continue to detain a motorist after the initial reason for the traffic stop has concluded.

Probable cause is a much higher standard than reasonable suspicion. Think of probable cause as requiring more than mere suspicion, although it is less than absolute certainty that a crime has been committed or that evidence of a crime will be found. In the context of a traffic stop, things such as acting nervous, hesitating when answering questions, or other “suspicious” behaviors are not enough on their own to provide the probable cause necessary to detain a motorist. Instead, an officer must be able to articulate facts on which to support a claim of probable cause in order for prolonged detention to be legal.

Contact Illinois Traffic Stop Lawyers Today

If you were detained longer than you believe was legal during a traffic stop, contact the experienced Illinois traffic stop lawyers at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC today. Call us at (312) 644-0444 or fill out our contact form.

Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : August 4, 2020