• David A. Cmelik Law PLC

Cedar Rapids DUI Lawyer: How long can police follow me?


Emergency top lights on police patrol car
An officer can follow for as long or as little as they like. There is no limit on time or geography as long as they conduct a "seizure" of your person within the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the counterpart in the Iowa Constitution. Typically, an officer must have reasonable suspicion to believe a crime is afoot or contraband is present, or, in the alternative, probable cause to believe that a crime has occurred to make a "seizure," and conduct a traffic stop.

I frequently get asked how long an officer has to make a traffic stop in a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, DUI investigation. There is no limit on time or distance.


Unfortunately, an Iowa law enforcement officer can follow you for as long as their supervisors allow. Usually, that means that they can follow you as long as they have nothing else to do or they have not come to end of their jurisdiction. This is the purpose of your license plates—to provide the officer’s with identifying information so that they can follow you and, potentially, conduct a traffic stop. Note that it sometimes will take several minutes for a dispatcher to radio back information about the license plate, registration, and registered owner. So a police officer may have to follow for several miles before taking any action. But sometimes officers are bored or have a mere hunch that someone is up to no good. This is not enough to conduct a traffic stop. An officer must have probable cause to believe a motorist has committed a traffic violation or, in the alternative, reasonable suspicion to believe the motorist is involved in a more complex crime. For this, they follow the suspect, sometimes for miles. Sooner or later, if they find no probable cause nor reasonable suspicion, they will break off and fry bigger fish elsewhere.


However, note that law enforcement jurisdiction in Iowa is typically an interagency matter. If an officer is outside her jurisdiction, it doesn’t mean an arrest is improper. All Iowa law enforcement academy trained officers may conduct a traffic stop and make an arrest as long as they observe criminal misconduct in violation of Iowa law. Explaining to their boss the next day that that they were “outside their jurisdiction” is another matter. Moreover, many officers from multiple jurisdictions can respond to a high speed chase or assist officers with events that host large crowds.


It is typically unavailing to argue that an officer was “outside” their jurisdiction—even though, intuitively, it is true that an officer lacks authority outside her jurisdiction. In fact, there are cases in Iowa that indicate jurisdiction is not a force field that immunizes suspects at the county line. First, in a case by the name of Snider, the Iowa Supreme Court held that someone could be cited for a traffic violation, investigated for drunk driving by a city police officer, and arrested just across the city limits.


Later cases in the Iowa Court of Appeals indicate either that law enforcement academy-trained municipal officers may make arrests for crimes committed in their presence any where in the state or, if they cannot, they could do it as a “citizen’s arrest.”


But most days, an officer won’t follow a car from one side of the county line to the other. If an officer senses that someone is strictly adhering to the traffic code, they will find another suspect.


If you or a loved one have been arrested for DUI in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, or other Iowa community, contact us for a free initial consultation.