LIVE – Freedom is Scary Episode No. 21, on the Fourth Amendment protections, or lack thereof, surrounding police officers searching and seizing pedestrians and vehicle occupants during traffic stops.
Mentioned in the video:
“All power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; […] magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.”– George Mason
On “Consensual Encounters:” As a general matter, police officers are free to approach and question individuals without necessarily effecting a seizure. Rather, a person is seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment “[o]nly when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.” Id. (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 n.16 (1968)). Such a seizure can be said to occur when, after considering the totality of the circumstances, the Court concludes that “a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” Id. (quoting United States v. Gray, 883 F.2d 320, 322 (4th Cir. 1989)). Similarly, when police approach a person at a location that they do not necessarily wish to leave, the appropriate question is whether that person would feel free to “terminate the encounter.” See Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 436 (1991). “[T]he free-to-leave standard is an objective test, not a subjective one.” United States v. Analla, 975 F.2d 119, 124 (4th Cir. 1992).
What is Reasonable Suspicion?
Reasonable suspicion is a “commonsense, nontechnical” standard that relies on the judgment of experienced law enforcement officers, “not legal technicians.” See Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 695, 116 S.Ct. 1657, 134 L.Ed.2d 911 (1996) (internal quotation marks omitted). To support a finding of reasonable suspicion, we require the detaining officer “to either articulate why a particular behavior is suspicious or logically demonstrate, given the surrounding circumstances, that the behavior is likely to be indicative of some more sinister activity than may appear at first glance.” See United States v. Foster, 634 F.3d 243, 248 (4th Cir.2011). (United States v. Williams, 808 F.3d 238 (4th Cir. 2015)).
What is Probable Cause?
Probable cause exists when the “facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge . . . are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, in believing, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is com- mitting, or is about to commit an offense.” – Michigan v. DeFillippo (SCOTUS 1979).
Length of Stop?
It is now settled that when a lawful traffic stop is made, “an officer … to gain his bearings and … acquire a fair understanding of the surrounding scene … may request identification of … [vehicular] passengers….” United States v. Soriano–Jarquin, 492 F.3d 495, 500 (4th Cir.2007); see also Branch, 537 F.3d at 337 (“If a police officer observes a traffic violation, he is justified in stopping the vehicle for long enough to issue the driver a citation and determine that the driver is entitled to operate his vehicle.”); United States v. Foreman, 369 F.3d 776, 781 (4th Cir.2004) (“[D]uring a routine traffic stop, an officer may request a driver’s license and vehicle registration, run a computer check, and issue a citation.”)….. “Additionally, ‘a police officer may as a matter of course order the driver of a lawfully stopped car to exit his vehicle.’ ”) (quoting [963 F.Supp.2d 591] Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408, 410, 117 S.Ct. 882, 137 L.Ed.2d 41 (1997)). U.S. v. Taylor, 963 F.Supp.2d 580 (S.D. W.Va. 2013).
In the context of traffic stops, police diligence encompasses requesting a driver’s license and vehicle registration, running a computer check, and issuing a ticket. If a police officer seeks to prolong a traffic stop to allow for investigation into a matter outside the scope of the initial stop, he must possess reasonable suspicion or receive the driver’s consent. However, “[a]n officer’s inquiries into matters unrelated to the justification for the traffic stop . . . do not convert the encounter into something other than a lawful seizure, so long as those inquiries do not measurably extend the duration of the stop.” U.S. v. Mason, 628 F.3d 123, 131, quoting Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323, 333 (2009). “Direct[ing] one minute of  questioning to the passenger [of the stopped vehicle] does not alter the calculus.” Id. at 132 (emphasis in original).
Additionally, “a police officer may as a matter of course order the driver of a lawfully stopped car to exit his vehicle.” Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408, 410, 117 S.Ct. 882, 137 L.Ed.2d 41 (1997) (citing Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 98 S.Ct. 330, 54 L.Ed.2d 331 (1977) (per curiam)). That rule, the justification for which is officer safety, extends to passengers, as well. Wilson, 519 U.S. at 414–15, 117 S.Ct. 882. (United States v. Vaughan, 700 F.3d 705 (4th Cir. 2012)).
[The officer] may take other actions that do not constitute “searches” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, such as conducting a dog-sniff of the vehicle, Caballes, 543 U.S. at 409, 125 S.Ct. 834, but again only “so long as those inquiries [or other actions] do not measurably extend the duration of the stop.” Johnson, [555 U.S. at 333] 129 S.Ct. .