Is criminal check of the driver allowed during a routine traffic stop or unreasonably prolongs it?

A traffic violation seizure “justifies a police investigation of that violation.” Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348, 354 (2015). A routine traffic stop is more analogous to a Terry stop “than to a formal arrest,” and it “can become unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the mission of issuing a” ticket for the violation. Id. at 354–55 (cleaned up). “[T]he tolerable duration of police inquiries in the traffic-stop context is determined by the seizure’s ‘mission’—to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop and attend to related safety concerns.” Id. at 354 (citations omitted).

The government’s interest in officer safety “stems from the mission of the stop itself” because “[t]raffic stops are especially fraught with danger to police officers, so an officer may need to take certain negligibly burdensome precautions in order to complete his mission safely.” Id. at 356 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). In making this observation, the Supreme Court cited favorably to a Tenth Circuit case, United States v. Holt, 264 F.3d 1215, 1221–22 (10th Cir. 2001) (en banc) (abrogated on other grounds), which it characterized as “recognizing officer safety justification[s] for criminal record and outstanding warrant checks.” Rodriguez, 575 U.S. at 356.

Given the Supreme Court’s reliance on this principle, it is unsurprising that several other circuits have held that criminal history checks are permissible post-Rodriguez. See United States v. Salkil, 10 F.4th 897, 898 (8th Cir. 2021) (“During a stop, officers may complete routine tasks, such as computerized checks of the driver’s license and criminal history, and the writing up of a warning.” (cleaned up)); United States v. Palmer, 820 F.3d 640, 651 (4th Cir. 2016) (“A police officer is entitled to inquire into a motorist’s criminal record after initiating a traffic stop”); United States v. Sanford, 806 F.3d 954, 956 (7th Cir. 2015) (a criminal history check is “a procedure permissible even without reasonable suspicion—indeed a procedure in itself normally reasonable, as it takes little time and may reveal outstanding arrest warrants” (citations omitted)); see also United States v. Mayville, 955 F.3d 825, 830 (10th Cir. 2020) (“[A]n officer’s decision to run a criminal-history check on an occupant of a vehicle after initiating a traffic stop is justifiable as a ‘negligibly burdensome precaution’ consistent with the important governmental interest in officer safety.”); United States v. Dion, 859 F.3d 114, 127 n.11 (1st Cir. 2017).

Full case here: UNITED STATES V. HYLTON,

Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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