The rule during a traffic stop is: you can only be pulled over and stopped for as long as it takes for the officer to write the ticket.
This is assuming they don't develop probable cause during the stop. For example, if they pull you over, and you smell like booze, now they have probable cause to continue the traffic stop.
But, if no probable cause develops, they have to write you your ticket and let you go about your business.
That's where the trooper two-step comes into play.
The trooper two-step happens after a traffic stop:
- First, the officer gives you your license and insurance back and says “you're free to leave.”
- Then, the officer takes two steps to the rear of the car.
- Then, the officer turns around and comes back to your window and says:
"Hey, by the way. You know we've got a lot of problems here with guns, drugs. You don't have any rocket launchers or drugs in the car, do you? You don't mind if we search?"
Let’s pause right there. Because the officers gave back your license and told you that “you're free to leave”, a line has been crossed. This is no longer a traffic stop, because they told you you're free to leave.
Now, this is a voluntary encounter.
Before they gave you your license back, they needed to have some kind of reasonable suspicion – or evidence to believe you've committed a crime to ask you to search your car. Now, since this is a voluntary encounter, they don't need any reasonable suspicion, now they don't need probable cause.
What do you do if you're in a situation like that, and you feel like they've done the trooper two-step to you? Just ask: "Am I free to leave?"
The next video we suggest for you: Police encounters.