Unreasonably Prolonged Detentions

In many DUI cases, the defense will file a motion to suppress evidence because of an unreasonably prolonged detention. If the motion is granted, the court will typically suppress any evidence gathered after the prolonged detention began.

If the court grants the motion, it might result in a dismissal of the charges for insufficient evidence.

The defense will often contend that the length of the detention was unreasonable given the lack of evidence of impairment, the observations of the law enforcement officers, and the other circumstances of the case.

The court will pay particular attention to when the officer developed evidence sufficient to support a reasonable suspicion that the Defendant was driving under the influence.

Attorney for Prolonged Detentions in DUI Cases in Tampa, FL

If your DUI case involves an unreasonably prolonged detention, then your criminal defense attorney will file a motion to suppress evidence illegally gained during that stop.

The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm understand the best defenses that apply to DUI cases.

Whether this is a first arrest for DUI or a second or subsequent accusation of drunk or impaired driving, we can help. With offices in Tampa and New Port Richey, FL, we provide free and confidential consultations.

Our attorneys are experienced in fighting DUI cases throughout the greater Tampa Bay area.

Call us at (813) 250-0500 to discuss your case.

Length of a Reasonable Detention

An officer who observes factors giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed or has been committed, after making a lawful investigatory stop, may further detain a person in order to conduct a reasonable inquiry to confirm or deny that probable cause existed to make an arrest. State v. Taylor, 648 So. 2d 701, 703 (Fla. 1995) (citing § 901.151, Fla. Stat.).

The person may not be detained “longer than is reasonably necessary” to determine whether there is probable cause for an arrest. § 901.151(3).

“It is permissible to detain suspects for a reasonable time to investigate the circumstances warranting an investigatory stop as well as any suspicious circumstances produced by the stop.” State v. Merklein, 388 So. 2d 218, 219 (Fla. 2d DCA 1980) (citing State v. Lopez, 369 So. 2d 623 (Fla. 2d DCA 1979).

In other words, once a motorist has been lawfully detained for a traffic violation, the law enforcement officer may detain the motorist long enough to accomplish the legitimate purpose of the stop.

To accomplish the purpose of the stop, the officer is allowed sufficient time to complete the following types of tasks:

  • checkign the defendant’s driver’s license, vehicle registration, proof of insurance;
  • determining whether there are any outstanding warrants;
  • writing any citations or warnings ;
  • returning these documents to the motorist, and
  • issuing any citation or warning.

See Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 191 L.Ed.2d 492 (2015),

If during the course of conducting a traffic stop for a traffic violation, the officer makes observations or acquires information providing a reasonable suspicion to believe the defendant is driving under the influence, then the officer may detain the defendant for so long as is reasonably necessary to confirm or dispel those suspicions by conducting a DUI investigation. See Origi v. State, 912 So.2d 69 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005).

The Reasonableness of an Investigatory Detention

“The reasonableness of an investigatory detention depends on the circumstances surrounding the detention, and not solely on its length.” Id. 

“In assessing whether a detention is too long in duration to be justified as an investigative stop,” courts should “examine whether the police diligently pursued a means of investigation that was likely to confirm or dispel their suspicions quickly, during which time it was necessary to detain the defendant.” U.S. v. Sharpe, 470 U.S. 675, 686 (1985). In Sharpe, the Court explained:

A court making this assessment should take care to consider whether the police are acting in a swiftly developing situation, and in such cases, the court should not indulge in unrealistic second-guessing.

A creative judge engaged in post hoc evaluation of police conduct can almost always imagine some alternative means by which the objectives of the police might have been accomplished.

But ‘[t]he fact that the protection of the public might, in the abstract, have been accomplished by less intrusive means does not, itself, render the search unreasonable.’

The question is not simply whether some other alternative was available, but whether the police acted unreasonably in failing to recognize or to pursue it.

Id. at 686-87.

A court making such an assessment should question whether there was any “delay unnecessary to the legitimate investigation of the law enforcement officers,” or any “evidence that the officers were dilatory in their investigation.” See id. at 687-88.

Examples of Prolonged Detention

In State v. Dass, 29 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 459c (9th Judicial Circuit 2021), the court listed several circuit court appellate opinions and trial court opinions involving cases where courts determined that prolonged detentions were unreasonable including:

  • State v. Swick, 25 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 995a (Fla. 7th Cir. Ct. Dec. 18, 2017) (where lawful traffic stop and reasonable suspicion for DUI, 27 to 28 minute delay in starting the DUI investigation was unreasonable because three officers at the scene could have done the investigation rather than waiting for a fourth with a video camera);
  • State v. Freeman, 21 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 680a (Fla. Volusia Cty. Ct. March 24, 2014) (officer developed grounds for DUI investigation but did nothing for ½ hour while waiting for another officer to arrive on scene, deemed unreasonable detention);
  • State v. Nicholson, 21 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 582b (Fla. Sarasota Cty. Ct. Sept. 20, 2013) (officer made valid stop and developed grounds for a DUI investigation but waited 17 minutes for another officer to arrive to do the investigation and stopping officer did nothing during that time — court held that once the investigation stopped the detention became unlawful.);
  • State v. Niehans, 15 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 365a (Fla. Escambia Cty. Ct. Jan. 15, 2008) (30 to 35 minute delay for arrival of officer to conduct field sobriety exercises was deemed unreasonable);
  • State v. Nesseler, 12 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 966a (Fla. Dade Cty. Ct. May 20, 2005) (where officer lawfully stopped boat and had reasonable suspicion for BUI, it was improper to detain the defendant for two hours for the arrival of another officer when the other officers could have carried out the investigation.)

Motions to Suppress for Prolonged Detentions

In many of these cases, the detention is unreasonable as a matter of law considering the facts and surrounding circumstances. Although the length of the detention alone is insufficient to render it unreasonable, additional facts may show that the officers’ actions were unreasonable.

In many of these cases, it is unreasonable for the officers to wait before conducting an accident investigation or DUI investigation.

The court will determine in these cases whether the officers acted unreasonably in pursuing the investigation or caused any unnecessary delay that would render the detention unreasonable. If so, the court must grant the motion to suppress on this basis.

If you were arrested for DUI, contact a drunk driving defense attorney in Tampa, FL, at Sammis Law Firm.

Call (813) 250-0500 for a free consultation.

This article was last updated on Tuesday, October 26, 2021.