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When Does a Traffic Stop End?

Posted On: July 14, 2015 by Marc Neff

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently held that it was proper to suppress evidence obtained through an unlawful traffic stop. Tam Thanh Ngyuen was a passenger in a car that was pulled over for traveling 73 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. The officer approached the driver and initiated a traffic stop. After obtaining the driver’s license and registration from the driver, he asked the driver to exit the vehicle. The officer observed the driver moving excessively and talking. An additional officer approached the passenger side without engaging the passenger. The second officer eventually asked the passenger for his driver’s license. After a short period of ignoring the officer, Mr. Ngyuen provided information to the officer. Mr. Ngyuen came back with numerous prior drug arrests, but this did not give the officers any probable cause to search. Eventually the original officer handed the driver a written warning and told the driver he was free to leave.

Before the officer entered his vehicle to leave, he turned around and reengaged the driver. The officers wanted to ask the driver some more questions. The driver complied, to which he was asked why he was nervous and if he would give consent to search the vehicle. The passenger, Mr. Ngyuen, also was told to step out of the vehicle and consented to a pat down which later would reveal OxyContin and small clear Ziploc baggies. Both the driver and passenger were placed under arrest.

The defense argued that the State Police action constituted a detention, requiring a reasonable suspicion to initiate a search of the defendant’s vehicle. The Commonwealth argued that the driver was told he was free to go following the traffic stop; the events which followed constituted a mere encounter between police and civilian, not requiring reasonable suspicion. The United States Supreme Court has ruled previously that a totality of the circumstances approach must be taken in determining what type of encounter such situation constitutes. One part of this test is whether a reasonable person would believe they were free to leave or to reject an officer’s request for search. In the case of Mr. Ngyuen, he and the driver were told they were free to go, and the subsequent actions of the officer made them believe that they were not in fact allowed to leave. Further, he was not told he could refuse the officers’ request to initiate a search. For the foregoing reasons, the evidence against Mr. Ngyuen was properly suppressed.

Drug offenses and Driving under the Influence are serious matters in Pennsylvania; certain offenses such as trafficking are considered felonies and carry mandatory minimum sentences. The Fourth Amendment of the United States’ Constitution affords individual rights pertaining to police search and seizure. Very often, an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney will have evidence found inadmissible due to an illegal police search, and will have charges against the defendant dropped or greatly reduced.

If you have been charged with a drug offense, contact the Law Offices of Marc Neff immediately. law. An experienced criminal defense attorney helps to ensure that a defendant’s rights are protected before, during and after a trial.  For a confidential consultation, contact the Law Offices of Marc Neff at (215) 563-9800 or via email at

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Posted in: Drug Crimes