Being Nervous Does NOT Permit Expanding the Scope of the Stop

Anyone who gets pulled over will tell you – if they’re being honest – that they were being nervous when talking with the cop. It doesn’t matter if the driver was hiding something illegal in the vehicle or was simply pulled over for speeding. It’s expected that a person will be nervous when interacting with cops. It’s human nature.

Simply being nervous, though, should not lead the cop to expanding the scope of the stop. Putting it differently, being nervous should not be grounds to suspect greater criminal activity is occurring. This is where a proper legal challenge to whether the cop could properly expand the scope of the stop due to the driver’s nerves. And a successful challenge can lead to the suppression of key evidence, which may lead to a dismissal of the case.

To understand this more, let’s roll through some examples. 

First, a driver is pulled over for a traffic violation. Upon interacting with the cop, the driver becomes nervous. Suspecting these nerves relate to something nefarious going on, the cop begins to ask more questions, prying into subjects that have no bearing on the reason for the stop. With each additional question and answer, the driver continues to get more nervous. But that’s it – just nervous. Eventually, the cop asks if there is anything in the car that would be a problem and asks to search. That request to search is (or at least should be if the judge is ruling correctly) an impermissible expansion of the stop. The cop cannot even ask to search the vehicle based solely on the driver being nervous. There must be something more to justify the further intrusion and request to search.

A second example. Same scenario, but the driver is acting nervous in a profound manner – shaking uncontrollably. This alone may be enough, but it’s certainly debatable. If you add in some filler information – which the cop almost certainly will – about any odor, the neighborhood being a high-crime area, or some other mysterious “based on my training and experience” fact, then a judge may find that this level of nerves, combined with some iota of additional suspicious information, will justify the expanding the scope of the stop.

You’d be surprised at how often a police report details a defendant being nervous as a means to justify the cop expanding the scope of the stop. Understanding that being nervous is not grounds to trample on the defendant’s Fourth Amendment protections can be the difference between a conviction and dismissal. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, it’s critical to get a Minnesota criminal defense attorney at North Star Criminal Defense to fight for you and your constitutional rights.