In reviewing recent Eleventh Circuit opinions, I came across United States v. Griffin, No. 11-15558, an opinion where the Court considered the issue of whether unrelated police questions posed during a valid Terry stop violate the 4th Amendment. The answer? Not necessarily. As noted at page 13 of the slip opinion, such questions would not violate the 4th Amendment unless they “measurably extend the duration of the stop.” Like other Circuits, the court refused to adopt bright-line “no prolongation rule,” and instead stated that the analysis should focus on whether the time it took the officer to ask the questions, and for Griffin to answer them, measurably extended or prolonged the duration of the stop so as to render the stop unreasonable under the 4th Amendment. Griffin, slip op., pg. 14. In conducting this analysis, the Court stated that one should assess the length of the stop as a whole, considering all the facts and circumstances. Griffin, slip op., pg. 14. If you are a criminal defense attorney who deals with Fourth Amendment issues a lot, then this would be a good opinion for you to read.
The opinion was authored by Judge Adalberto Jordan, who formerly presided in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. (You can read my post about his elevation to the Circuit Court here). I have not yet read any other opinions authored by Judge Jordan, but I hope that the Griffin opinion is a sign of things to come. If you are an attorney who handles criminal appeals, you may appreciate several things about the Griffin opinion. At 19 pages long, the opinion is relatively short, by Eleventh Circuit standards. Also, the opinion is written in a direct manner, flows logically, and contains nothing which might make anyone think that the Court had given anything less than full consideration to the positions of each of the parties. Isn’t that what the best appellate opinions do? I don’t know about you, but I look forward to reading more opinions by Judge Jordan!