Can Police Randomly Stop Cars to Check License and Registration ?
In Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 653, 59 L. Ed. 2d 660, 99 S. Ct. 1391 (1979), the United States Supreme Court held that law enforcement may not randomly stop automobiles for the sole purpose of checking the driver's license and registration.
The Court reasoned that such a random stop was unconstitutional because the officers did not have reasonable suspicion that the driver was violating any law.
The Court, however, further recognized the importance of ensuring that drivers are properly licensed and noted that this may be accomplished during the course of a valid traffic stop. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. at 658-60.
In Florida v. Royer, the high Court held that a Fourth Amendment search must be strictly tied to and justified by the circumstances surrounding the initial detention. Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. at 500.
In that case, the officers had detained a suspicious-acting young man in an airport because they believed the man to be a drug courier.
The Court held, however, that during the course of this detention, the officers exceeded the limits of the investigatory stop because the officers asked the defendant to accompany them to a police room, retained his airline ticket and driver's license, and did not indicate that he was free to depart.
The officers further informed the defendant that he was suspected of transporting narcotics.
The Court, however, noted that the officers had in fact acted legally by asking for and examining the defendant's airline ticket and driver's license, but the officers simply should have stopped there. Id. at 501-02.