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Traffic Stops in Minnesota

When can a police officer pull me over? How long can the traffic stop last? What can the officer investigate? A blog post about the interplay between traffic stops and DWI arrests in Minnesota.

In Minnesota, a police officer can pull your vehicle over so long as the officer can point to particularized and objective facts for suspecting you are engaged in criminal activity. This is a standard that is commonly known as reasonable, articulable suspicion. The factual basis required to support a traffic stop is minimal and, generally speaking, any violation of the traffic law-no matter how insignificant-forms a sufficient basis to pull you over.

The appropriate duration of a traffic stop is determined by the basis for the stop. The stop can last no longer than necessary to address the violation that warranted pulling you over. Moreover, an officer is limited to investigating the initial purpose of the stop unless he or she develops reasonable, articulable suspicion during the stop that other criminal activity is present. If additional criminal behavior is observed, the officer may investigate, but, again, the investigation can last no longer than necessary to assess the new criminal activity and the investigation must be strictly limited to the basis for the expansion.

These constitutional issues-the basis for the stop and the expansion of the stop-often work together in connection with DWI arrests. Often times, drivers in Minnesota are stopped for routine traffic violations, such as a broken taillight, a failure to use a turn signal, or a failure to adequately stop at a stop sign. Officers approach the driver, discuss the basis for the stop, and, in doing so, notice indications of intoxication, such as slurred speech, bloodshot/watery eyes, or the odor of alcohol. It is these indicators that allow officers to turn a routine traffic stop into a full-blown DWI investigation.

While the constitutional mandates for traffic stops and expansions are fairly straightforward, law enforcement officers do not always act "by the book." Traffic stops that do not comport with constitutional requirements can result in the dismissal of a DWI case. DWI convictions often carry extensive collateral effects, such as a loss of employment, inability to be licensed in a particular profession, or inability to obtain housing. Preventing conviction is important for your record. If you have been arrested for or charged with a DWI, call Grant Borgen at 507-282-1503 to determine whether the traffic stop complied with constitutional requirements.

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