The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

A lot can happen in a "de minimis" extension of a traffic stop


A few days ago, a bunch of sites posted about an interesting video of a traffic stop that is relevant to the Supreme Court's recent cert grant in Rodriguez v. United States. I'm a little late to the party, but I wanted to post about the video anyway. In the video, the officer pulled over the car for driving without headlights and issued a warning. The video starts just as the stop is over, when the officer gets to what he really wants: To search the car for drugs. The whole exchange lasts just two minutes, and it's worth watching.

The officer starts with an innocuous question, and he then pivots quickly to talking about drugs. Seconds later, the officer is accusing the driver of having drugs in the car ("How much weed do you have in the car tonight?") and he gives the driver the opportunity to consent to a search to prove to the officer that he doesn't. The officer realizes that the stop should be over, and he tells the driver that he's free to go, but he combines it with the request for consent to minimize its impact ("You understand you're free to go and everything but you don't have a problem with me looking at your car?"). When the driver refuses consent, the officer then repeatedly says that the driver had admitted that he smokes pot (which he hadn't), presumably to make the driver feel like denying consent is suspicious.

Here's the video:

Like Scott Greenfield, I tend to think that this video gives some insight into how a "de minimis" extension of a traffic stop can actually be a pretty big deal. A lot happens in that two minutes. And more broadly, it's an interesting example of how officers try to obtain permission to conduct a search.