May a Passenger Leave the Car after a Lawful Traffic Stop?

As we have said in past traffic stop cases – this type of activity is at the core of good police work.  More importantly, traffic stops often lead to uncovering other criminal activity. At the core of most traffic stop claims is the determination of when the officer has completed the enforcement action arising out of the original stop.  Any continuation of the stop after that point requires additional facts or observations that support a finding of Reasonable Suspicion. 

Today we will be looking at another Traffic Stop case – United States v Yancey1 – out of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.  You may recall an earlier traffic stop extension case out of the 9th Circuit that did not go well for the officers.  In that case, the 9th Circuit determined that the officers had impermissibly extended the scope and timing of the traffic stop and that once the operator was cited for the traffic violation officers had no authority to extend the stop to seek identification from a passenger. Let’s take a look at the facts in the Yancey case and see how officers were able to make a case that resulted in Yancey receiving a 6-year sentence for gun possession. 


Rock Island police officer Zachary Costas was on patrol when he recognized a vehicle being operated by Deborah McCorkle.  Officer Costas was aware that a neighboring jurisdiction had issued an arrest warrant for McCorkle so he directed dispatch to confirm the warrant.  Once the warrant was confirmed, Costas initiated a traffic stop. 

Costas approached the vehicle and observed Yancey in the front passenger seat.  The officer recognized Yancey from past incidents during which Yancey was “very confrontational” with officers.  Costas also knew that Yancey was on parole for a weapons offense and was known to carry weapons.  In addition, a recent “contact sheet” was issued and read at roll call where officers were advised to use caution when dealing with Yancey and that he may be armed. 

A minute after the initial stop Officer Zier arrived to assist with the stop.  Zier also was aware of the contact sheet information and had prior contacts with Yancey.  Zier monitored Yancey while Officer Costas dealt with Ms. McCorkle.  Costas advised McCorkle of the warrants and had her step out of the car.  She was handcuffed and led back to the cruiser.  While being led back to the cruiser McCorkle asked if Yancey could driver her car away rather than incur the cost of a tow. Meanwhile, Zier could see Yancey appeared to be nervous and asked several times to leave. 

Zier advised Yancey that they would need to check his license to determine whether he could drive the car from the scene.  Zier then searched the pocketbook that McCorkle had given to the defendant and Zier asked Yancey to step from the vehicle so he could frisk him.  Upon stepping from the car Yancey began running and was subsequently tackled by Officer Zier and Officer Costas.  During the course of the struggle the officers observed a black handgun in Yancey’s waistband.  Yancey was handcuffed and the weapon was secured. The total elapsed time from the initial stop until the time Yancey was handcuffed and placed in the cruiser was 8 minutes. 

Yancey was subsequently charged with federal gun possession charges and his motion to suppress the gun was denied after an evidentiary hearing in district court. The trial court determined the officers’ testimony was credible and was in-line with the video evidence taken from the officers’ body camera recordings.  The court found that when Yancey ran from the officers, the stop was still ongoing and Zier told Yancey he could not leave while the officers were still attempting to determine whether Yancey could legally drive the car from the scene.  Yancey pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment and this appeal followed. 

7th Circuit Findings 

Yancey claims his 4th Amendment rights were violated in two ways – (1) he claims the officers improperly prevented him from leaving the scene and (2) officers lacked the requisite reasonable suspicion that he was armed prior to conducting a pat down. 

The court quickly dispensed Yancey’s second claim finding that there was no pat down because Yancey fled before officers could conduct the frisk.  With respect to the first claim, Yancey argued that the stop was over at the point McCorkle was handcuffed and placed in the cruiser and at that point he should have been free to leave.  The appellate court disagreed.  

The court acknowledged that the initial purpose of the stop was to arrest McCorkle on the outstanding warrants.  However, according to the court, after McCorkle was secured in the cruiser “attendant tasks remained unaddressed”.  Those tasks included: 

  • An inventory search of McCorkle’s pocketbook pursuant to the RIPD vehicle inventory policy; and  
  • Verifying whether Yancey could legally drive the car from the scene as McCorkle had requested. 

Using the time stamps from the BWC recordings the court acknowledged that only 2 minutes had passed from the time McCorkle was placed in the cruiser to the time Yancey ran from the officers.  Under these circumstances it was not “an unreasonable amount of time for the officers to be conducting these administrative matters” and, therefore, the stop was deemed to be “ongoing”. 

Based on the court’s findings the officers had the proper authority to continue the stop and use reasonable force to detain Yancey when he attempted to flee. 


A good result for the officers in this case that was based, in no small part, on the BWC recordings.  Just as important, however, were the reports completed by the officers and officer testimony at the suppression hearing.  Documenting the information known to officers at the time of the stop, the officers’ past experiences with the defendant, and the fact that a cautionary “contact sheet” had been read at roll call all played a part in giving the court the facts it needed to apply sound legal principles. 

I still run into agencies that do not have a “Vehicle Inventory Policy”.  As you saw in this case, these policies can play an important role in assuring officers and their agencies are protected from claims of damage or theft by unhappy vehicle owners.  And, while these policies are not written with the purpose of securing evidence or contraband, there are times when a properly executed vehicle inventory will uncover such items. 

1United States v. Yancey, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 19229 (7th Cir IL June 27, 2019)