Today many news media sources indicated that a kicker from Illinois was stopped by a state trooper, questioned about why he was in the state, and asked to join the Huskers. While some believe the trooper was merely assisting the University of Nebraska recruit a football player, the experienced criminal defense lawyer knows that the interstate drug stop did not render any special treatment to the kicker.
This is a common scenario; a state trooper sees out of state plates and what may or may not be a minor traffic violation and pulls the car over. The out of state driver is asked to come back to the trooper’s car and the trooper engages in small talk with the driver while searching for wants, warrants and criminal history. The trooper also determines whether the driver’s travel story checks out. In many instances, law enforcement does not believe the travel story and has a drug dog sniff the car. Thus the question arises what gives the officer the right to talk to a motorist about anything other than the reason for the traffic stop.
It is clear that the officer can ask about the purpose and destination of travel, but when the questioning goes outside the traffic stop and becomes unreasonable, there is an unlawful detention. If a search is later conducted pursuant to that unlawful detention, and contraband is found, that contraband can be suppressed and kept out of trial pursuant to the driver’s Fourth Amendment right that protects him from unreasonable searches and seizures. In the end, most Husker fans will see this traffic stop as a friendly trooper simply being cordial with a Nebraska recruit who was pulled over for a traffic violation. Others who have been stopped on the interstate and been detained for long periods of time and even had their vehicles searched, see this as a common law enforcement tactic. And of course it is a tactic. Certainly, the taxpayers in the State of Nebraska are not paying the state troopers to recruit football players. The troopers are paid to keep our interstates safe and part of that is drug interdiction. The accidental recruitment of the Illinois kicker was merely the trooper using the tactics, techniques and procedure commonly used during interstate drug stops.