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Prolonged Detention to Await Backup Was Reasonable

A detention by a police officer accomplished by a show of authority (as opposed to simply a consensual encounter) requires only reasonable suspicion that the detained person has committed or is about to commit a crime. However, the duration of the detention should also be no more than reasonably necessary for its purpose. The Tennessee Supreme Court, in the recent case of State v. Montgomery, M2013-01149-SC-R11-CD (Tenn. 3-27-2015), reversing a previous ruling by the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals, has determined that a ten to fifteen wait for backup in a DUI investigation was not unreasonable.

In the Montgomery case, police had received a complaint that the Defendant had been trespassing and was intoxicated. An investigating officer located the Defendant, who was in the drivers' seat of a vehicle with the engine running in a church parking lot. There was also a passenger inside the vehicle. Upon approaching the vehicle, the officer observed signs of intoxication and requested identification. The officer received the drivers' licenses of the Defendant and her passenger. He retained the licenses and waited approximately ten to fifteen minutes for a second officer to arrive before continuing with the investigation. After the arrival of the second officer, the investigation continued with field sobriety tests and a vehicle search which revealed alcohol and marijuana in the vehicle. The Defendant was arrested and charged with DUI and an open container violation.

The Defendant successfully convinced the trial court to suppress the evidence, arguing that the length of the detention exceeded the scope of the initial stop. The Defendant's argument was that the officer making the initial detention to investigate a suspected DUI should have proceeded with the DUI investigation without awaiting the arrival of the second officer. The State appealed the ruling to the Court of Criminal Appeals and then finally to the state Supreme Court. An undivided Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the ruling, concluding that the length of the detention was not unreasonable under the circumstances. The Supreme Court noted that there were legitimate officer safety concerns and that awaiting the assistance of a second officer, especially given the presence of a passenger in the Defendant's vehicle, was reasonable. Furthermore, the second officer had also been collecting additional information from the original complainant, which may have been relevant to the investigation. Under the circumstances the detention was not unreasonably prolonged and the evidence should not be excluded. The case was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings.

For more information on whether a detention may be unreasonable or unreasonably prolonged, contact Hindman & Associates.

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