Is Miranda Required in Traffic Stops?

By Dee Wampler

Miranda v. Arizona warnings are not necessary during questioning pursuant to a routine traffic stop[1] and statements made during a non-custodial traffic stop are admissible into evidence. [2]

Roadside detentions may only last for a time necessary to conduct a reasonable investigation which includes “asking for the driver’s license, requesting the driver to sit in the patrol car, and asking the driver about his destination and purpose.”  But, officers must release the motorist after the reasonable investigation unless the responses create probable cause.

Automobiles may no longer be searched automatically incident to the arrest of one of its occupants.  They  may be  searched  if  it  is “reasonable to believe” that evidence of the crime “which led to the stop” is in the particular vehicle or if individuals can actually gain access to the interior[3] or if there is probable cause to believe evidence subject to the seizure is in the vehicle.

No search or seizure is allowed unless an officer has a reasonable suspicion, “based on specific and articulable facts” that an occupant is or has been engaged in criminal activity.[4]  Although Terry’s facts involved a suspicion of criminal activity, nothing in the Fourth Amendment requires the “specific and articulable facts” to be limited to criminal activity.  Insisting that every encounter be based on suspicion of criminal activity ignores law enforcement officers’ community caretaking functions.  The Supreme Court has acknowledged these functions, stating:

Local police officers . . . frequently investigate vehicle accidents in which there is no claim of criminal liability and engage in what, for want of a better term, may be described as community caretaking functions, totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.

A law enforcement officer may be justified in approaching a vehicle to provide assistance without needing any reasonable basis to suspect criminal activity. Stop was permissible where motorist slowed and rolled down his window because the officer had a reasonable suspicion the motorist needed assistance. Stops for safety reasons alone can be sufficient and are not required to be based upon specific and articulable facts of criminal activity.


[1] State v. Schroeder, 330 S.W.3d 468 (MO 2011).
[2] State v. Stover, 388 S.W.3d 138 (MO 2012).
[3] Arizona v. Gant, 129 S.Ct. 1710 (2009).
[4] Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20-21, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed2d 889 (1968).