It seems that not a day goes by without law enforcement forcibly arresting someone during a “routine” traffic stop. These stops are more frequently escalating into armed confrontations that end up with a citizen being seriously injured or killed.
Critics argue that cops routinely profile drivers and certain types of vehicles, pulling them over because the cop believes there is potential to uncover other more serious crimes committed by the driver or occupants. Common examples of these escalated charges often involve firearm possession, outstanding warrants, driving under the influence or drug possession.
Reasonable suspicion versus probable cause
Police officers have a duty to not violate their suspect’s legal rights. Technically, officers are trained to follow the rules of reasonable suspicion and probable cause when pulling over a driver. Although officers often violate these fundamental rules, they remain two of the most important lines of defense that protect an individual’s rights.
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable seizures or searches, but probable cause gives officers adequate reason to do a cursory search and to seize property they find. Judges will not issue a warrant without probable cause. Examples include:
- A moving violation
- Erratic driving
- Driving admitting to illegal activity
- A broken headlight or other equipment violation
Reasonable suspicion has broader parameters. These involve a fair, unbiased and justified reason to pull someone over and search their vehicle. The cop must point to specific circumstances or details that justify their suspicions. It is more than a hunch, but they need not have probable cause.
Cops may overstep the boundaries
There is seemingly a lot of gray area regarding officers’ authority to stop and search individuals. But suspects can fight back against such actions as lengthy stops without arrest, coercive interviews to gather evidence, or pulling a car over for no reason.
Defense attorneys can fight these charges and sometimes find holes in law enforcement’s actions. If the officer’s reason for stopping your vehicle seems questionable—or if the officer’s behavior during the traffic stop got out of hand—it’s important to seek legal advice regarding your options and next steps.