Can Police Officers Ask Random Questions During Traffic Stops?

Getting pulled over it can be a stressful situation.

When the officer approaches your car he starts with a

Do you know why I pulled you over today?

You respond accordingly.

But then he starts in with a line of random questions.

Can police officers ask random questions at a traffic stop?

The Oregon Supreme Court recently made a decision on the matter.

Let’s dive in!

Oregon Supreme Court Bans Police Officers From Asking Random Questions During Traffic Stops

Recently the Oregon Supreme Court has banned officers from asking random questions or “fishing” at a traffic stop.

This means that officers in Oregon can no longer ask questions about matters that do not pertain to the reason the pulled a vehicle over.

For example, an officer pulling over a care with a busted tail light, can not ask questions that are not “reasonably related” to the busted light.

The History of the Oregon Supreme Court Ruling

The case which led to this ruling stemmed from a traffic stop involving Mario Arreola-Botello, and a Beaverton Police officer in 2015. Mario was pulled over for failing to signal a turn. The driver consented to a search of his car and as a result the officer found methamphetamine in the car. 

Prior to the Oregon Supreme Court ruling two lower courts rejected the argument raised by Arreola-Botello’s defense.

The courts each decided that “unavoidable lull” of a conversation would happen at a traffic stop. They ruled that it is unavoidable that the conversation would stray from the reason the car was pulled over.

However, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that this type of questioning could not be used as a basis for discovering other crimes.

Exceptions to the Oregon Supreme Court Ruling

On the other hand, if an officer approaches a car he pulled over for a busted taillight and smells alcohol on the driver. This could still be used as a reason to question the driver in order to see if he/she is drinking and driving.

Though the officer can not use random questioning to uncover crimes, he can still use reasonable suspicion to inquire about other crimes.

What’s the Bottom Line?

In general, officers in most states can still ask you whatever they want. Of course this ruling is limited to the State of Oregon.

However, we may see that similar cases being decided in other states.

Only time will tell! The history of traffic laws is always evolving.

It will be interesting to see what happens down the road!

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