27 December 2010

Pretext Stops in Virginia

I was catching up on reviewing cases from the Virginia appellate courts and ran across the following case, which pretty much puts the courts' stance on pretext stops as baldly as possible.

Thomas v. Commonwealth, NOV10, VaApp No. 1288-09-3: (1) The fact that the seizure of a person is pretextual (car stop) does not factor into the question as to whether the seizure was constitutional. (2) The question of the constitutionality of a seizure is not dependent on the officer's state of mind, what the officer says, or evidence of the officer's subjective rationale. (3) An objective assessment of the officer’s actions in light of the facts and circumstances at the time of seizure will determine whether the seizure was constitutionally valid. (4) When a seizure is valid (traffic violation) the officer does not violate the 4th Amendment when he briefly extends the seizure to ask questions not related to the objectively valid reason for the seizure. (5) It is not unreasonable to extend the time of the seizure of one person in a car in order to run a warrant check on another person in the car. (6) During a traffic stop the officer has the authority to (a) obtain registration of the vehicle; and (b) get the identities of all persons in the car; and (c) seek radio dispatch confirmation of the information gotten from those in the car; and (d) detain the persons in the car, other than the driver, for the duration of the stop; and (e) ask questions unrelated to the stop; and (f) order anyone in the vehicle to exit it; and (g) walk a drug sniffing dog around the vehicle; and (h) seize weapons the moment they are seen.

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