So you are driving along, and you notice red and blue flashing lights in your rear view mirror. You're being pulled over. You pull to the side of the road and wait for the officer. The officer approaches your window, tells you why you've been stopped, asks you where you've been, where you're going, and asks for your license, registration, and proof of insurance. The officer retreats to the patrol car with all the necessary documents that allow you to legally drive your vehicle. The emergency lights are still flashing, and there are flood lights shining down on you from all angles. You are certainly not free to leave as you anxiously await the officer's inevitable return, yet you keep waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Minutes and minutes eek by. So you begin to ask yourself, “Where is the officer? What are they doing back there? Just how long can they keep me waiting here? “
Like the answer to most legal questions, the answer is, “it depends.”
When the police make a traffic stop, they may detain the driver for the reasonable period of time that it takes to identify the person, check for warrants, check the driver's license status, verify insurance, check the vehicle registration, and complete and issue the citation for the traffic infraction. State v. Lemus, 103 Wn. App. 94 (2000). Consider the time of day, technical issues, and the driver's level of cooperation.
If the officer has a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity has occurred, or will occur, and the officer has facts that can support the suspicion, the stop may be extended only long enough for the officer to investigate the increasingly suspicious circumstances. Wa. Const, art. 1, § 7; State v. Lemus, 103 Wn. App. 94 (2000). Think suspicion of DUI, and the length of time to conduct the sobriety tests.
So, there is no hard and fast rule saying how long is too long. In some cases, 35 minutes may be too long. State v. Williams, 102 Wn.2d 733, 689 P.2d 1065 (1986). In other cases, 90 minutes is too long, 4 minutes is not, and 20 minutes can go either way. See State v. Lund, 70 Wn. App. 437, 853 P.2d 1379.
If you have been arrested for DUI and feel that you were detained for an unreasonable amount of time before being arrested, you may want to consult an attorney.