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  • David A. Cmelik Law PLC

How long can Cedar Rapids Police follow motorist?

emergency top lights police car

Potential clients and clients facing Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Operating While Intoxicated, or, OWI (DUI), charges will often ask: how long can a police officer follow a motorist before they break off an OWI investigation?

Unfortunately, there is no set limit for officers to tail a suspect and they don't have to "break off" an OWI investigation if reasonable suspicion or probable cause isn't immediately apparent. It does beg the question of whether an officer has targeted a motorist for a traffic stop. But such "rolling surveillance" is common, particularly for patrol officers who believe they have a knack for spotting intoxicated drivers merely by their "driving behavior."

Most fair minded officers will, in fact, not waste their time following a motorist they initially suspect may be under the influence when that target doesn't show any more signs after the initial hunch presents itself. They will break off the tail and look for actual drunk drivers elsewhere.

However, officers need only reasonable suspicion to believe a crime is occurring or contraband is present in order to conduct has become known as a "Terry stop," a momentary seizure of the suspect's person to dispel any such reasonable suspicion.

Such reasonable suspicion is the fall back argument for prosecutors and police officers who lack probable cause to believe a traffic crime or another offense has been committed. Reasonable suspicion is "more than a scintilla but less than probable cause."

Scintilla Black's Law Dictionary Entry

Scintilla is defined by Black's Legal Dictionary as "very insignificant" or "trifling." Officers only need "more than a scintilla" to justify a momentary seizure of a motorist to dispel reasonable suspicion the driver is operating under the influence. Moreover, they don't need to be absolutely sure-- or even probably sure, because probable cause is not required.

Of course, these are not quantifiable terms, so who decides whether an officer has "reasonable suspicion" to conduct a traffic stop? The judge decides in a hearing that occurs on Defendant's motion to "suppress" before a trial. No jury is involved in such a pretrial hearing.

While the courts define the amount of suspicion a patrol officer is required to present to the court in order to justify his or her traffic stop, Iowa criminal courts do not prohibit the police from taking otherwise legal steps to arrive at that suspicion. Police can drive on public streets for as long as other motorists do. License plates are made for them to conduct rolling surveillance.

If you or a loved one have been arrested for OWI, or, Operating While Intoxicated, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or, Linn, Johnson, Benton, Jones, Tama, or Iowa, counties, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC for a free initial consultation.

Remember, however, that a blog is not legal advice and that sending unsolicited information to a lawyer over the Internet does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

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