Friday, May 3, 2013

When Can a Police Officer Pull You Over?

A police officer cannot pull over anyone without a reason.  There has to be what is called "probable cause" that a crime is occurring to justify a stop and contact.  Officers can also make contact with a citizen to perform a welfare check, if they are concerned that a person is in danger.

Typical reasons why a vehicle is stopped include traffic violations like speeding, failure to signal for two seconds before turning or changing lanes, reckless driving, running a red light, failure to wear a seat belt, crossing the fog line, and driving with a cracked windshield.  Officers also will stop a car if a license check reveals that the registration is not current or the insurance is expired.  In DUI investigations, one or more of these traffic violations will usually be observed.  Other non-criminal reasons for stopping for a welfare check or DUI suspicion would include driving too slow for traffic conditions, or weaving inside the lane.

There are times where the officer does not see any traffic violation, but a concerned citizen calls 9-1-1 to report erratic driving.  Under these circumstances, an officer can stop a vehicle based on the citizen complaint.

To avoid being pulled over by the police, I highly recommend keeping your license, registration and insurance up to date, and keep all of your vehicle's parts in good working order, including your windshield.  If you are stopped by an officer, and the reason why is not clear, keep on eye on the officer to see if he or she walks around your vehicle prior to making contact (looking for a reason to justify the stop.)  If cited or arrested, make sure you let your attorney know as much detail as possible about the stop as an illegal stop can result in the case being dismissed.

I had a client who was pulled over for no reason.  The officer later told him that he was stopped because the license plate light was out.  The officer then investigated further and arrested my client for charges unrelated to the reason given for the stop.  (i.e. DUI, drug possession, etc.)  I filed a motion to suppress the evidence because my client was adamant that his license plate light was working.  At the hearing, my client's friend, who had been a passenger in the car the night it was pulled over, testified and showed the judge a picture of the lit license plate that he took with his cell phone at the scene.  I requested a suppression hearing based on the illegal stop.  As a result, the judge ruled that the stop by the officer was illegal, without probable cause, and threw out all of the evidence obtained after the stop.  The case was dismissed much to the frustration of the Officer.

If you feel that you were stopped without probable cause, call me to evaluate your case.
(435) 654-9529 

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