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Police Interrogation During Traffic Stops: More Questions Than Answers
By Tracey Maclin
One would ordinarily be cautious in criticizing a position taken by two
respected federal appellate judges who come from opposite sides of the
political spectrum: the liberal Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the Ninth
Circuit and the generally conservative Judge Michael McConnell of the
Tenth Circuit.1 But both judges have misread two Supreme
Court rulings, and in the process, have extended the authority of police
officers to arbitrarily interrogate motorists during routine traffic
stops. The judges’ interpretation, if not corrected, will undermine
Fourth Amendment protections that courts across the nation have
uniformly recognized since Terry v. Ohio.2
Traffic stops affect millions of Americans every year. Typically, a
vehicle is detained for a routine traffic violation. While processing
the driver’s papers, or pending a computer check of outstanding warrants
for the motorist or passenger, an officer may question the motorist
about the purpose of his trip, dest
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