As we talked about on a previous blog, police need to have reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed in order for a traffic stop to be considered legal. If they see you swerving in your lane or your vehicle matches the description of a stolen vehicle in the area, they can conduct a traffic stop (even if it turns out you didn’t steal the car). Absent reasonable suspicion, the traffic stop is illegal.
But what does an illegal traffic stop look like, and what are some of the illegal reasons police use to pull people over? We take a look at five types of illegal traffic stops in today’s blog.
Types Of Unconstitutional Traffic Stops
Here’s a look at five types of traffic stops that are illegal and could result in a judge throwing out the entire case against you.
1. Gender Or Race – Driving while black is not a crime, but some police officers treat it like it is. They may see a black person driving around and figure out they’ll stop them to see what’s going on, but absent actual suspicion, it’s an illegal stop. The ends can’t justify the means, and police need to have reasonable suspicion. They can’t just stop someone based on their race or gender.
2. Whiskey Plates – As we’ve talked about on the blog in the past, Whiskey Plates are sometimes required after a person has been convicted of DWI. Although the plate suggests the driver has a previous DWI conviction, that alone is not enough to warrant a subsequent traffic stop. Another infraction needs to be witnessed.
3. Criminal History – Similarly, a police officer cannot look up your information using your license plates, see that you have a criminal record and conduct a traffic stop to see if something is amiss. If you have any outstanding warrant, they can stop you, but having a DWI or assault conviction on your record doesn’t warrant enough reasonable suspicion for police to conduct a traffic stop.
4. Anonymous Tips – An anonymous tip from a caller doesn’t reach the level of reasonable suspicion. Police may be able to follow the vehicle to see if they commit a driving infraction, but someone else’s suspicions or tip does not alone meet the threshold needed to conduct a legal traffic stop, unless the officer is willing to argue in court that a random tip somehow met this threshold without any addition observable evidence.
5. Unreasonably Lengthy Traffic Stops – Finally, even if the original reason for stopping someone is legal, the interaction itself needs to be conducted correctly. If police suspect that you may have drugs in the vehicle, but they can’t get a warrant and don’t have your permission, they can’t keep you on the side of the road for an hour until a police K9 can perform a walk-around. There is no set time limit for which police need to complete these stops in, but it needs to be reasonable. Anything more than 20-25 minutes is bordering on unreasonable, but it will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
If you believe your traffic stop was illegal for one of the above reasons or a different reason, reach out to Avery and the team at Appelman Law Firm to learn more about your legal options.