How Long Can You Be Detained by Police for a Traffic Violation in California ?

A person stopped for a traffic violation may be detained only so long as is necessary for the officer to complete the duties associated with the stop. In People v. McGaughran (1979) 25 Cal.3d 577, a police office stopped a car for going the wrong way on a street. After the officer explained the reason for the stop and obtained and examined the defendant's driver's license and identification of a passenger, the officer returned to his car and conducted a warrant search on both the driver and passenger. About 10 minutes later, the officer learned there were warrants on both. A search incident to an arrest revealed evidence of a burglary. The Supreme Court found that the traffic stop exceeded the lawful duration. It said an officer may temporarily detain an individual for violation of a traffic law for a period reasonably necessary to complete the purpose of the stop. (Id. at p. 584.) Thus, the officer may request and examine the detainee's driver's license, explain the purpose of the stop, listen to the detainee's explanation, and give a warning or write a citation. (People v. Brown (1998) 62 Cal.Ap.4th 493, 498.) "If a warrant check can be completed within that same period, no reason appears to hold it improper: because it would not add to the delay already lawfully experienced by the offender as a result of his violation, it would not represent any further intrusion on his rights." (Ibid.)