Odds are you’ve been driving along at some point in your life and noticed a police car in your rearview mirror. Then don’t have their lights on yet, but you automatically slow down and begin to wonder if you were violating any driving laws. The officer can’t just pull you over without a reason, but what constitutes a justified traffic stop in Minnesota? We answer that question in today’s blog.
Reasonable Suspicion To Stop In Minnesota
Minnesota law states that an officer must have “reasonable suspicion” of criminal behavior in order to conduct a stop of a persons in their vehicle. Reasonable suspicion means that an officer must have enough evidence that a crime may have occurred and be willing to come to court and testify to the activity. This means that the occurrence of a criminal activity alone is not enough to convict a person; i.e. the ends can’t justify the means. What this means is that due process needs to be followed. A cop can’t just pull someone over randomly, search their car, find drugs and arrest them; there needs to exist reasonable suspicion that a traffic stop is justified to begin with. It’s one question that a good criminal defense lawyer will always consider when building a defense – “Was the officer justified in stopping my client in the first place?”
However, challenging the legality of a stop is usually difficult, because oftentimes it comes down to your word versus the police. If you were charged with a DUI and the officer said he originally pulled you over because you were swerving, it will be difficult to prove that you weren’t swerving. You can testify on your behalf, but outside of visual evidence, it’s going to be tough to prove that you weren’t swerving, even if you were driving in your own lane. Cops know this, which makes building their case easier, because they know their word typically holds more or at a minimum the same amount of value as an average citizen.
Common Reasons For Stopping Drivers
In order for an officer to perform a justified stop on a driver, an officer must witness one or more of the following reasons. (This isn’t a complete list).
- Reckless driving
- Distracted driving
- Weaving into another lane
- Crossing the center line
- Equipment violations
- Obstructed or illegal license plates
- Broken tail light or head light
- Driving with a flat tire
- Texting while driving
- Alcohol in plain sight
Phoned In Tips
Clients have also asked about the legality of phoned in tips. For example, what if someone calls police and reports someone’s driving behavior? Can police just go and pull that person over based on the word of another driver?
Under Minnesota law, a police officer is allowed to pull you over based on the testimony of another driver if they have “reasonable suspicion of illegality based on articulable facts.” This means that the officer must be able to argue to that court that the reason why you were stopped surpassed the “reasonable suspicion” threshold. However, it’s more likely that an officer responding to an anonymous tip will catch up to you and observe your driving behavior. If you’re driving within the law, odds are they won’t stop you. However, if they witness even the slightest infraction, they may conduct a stop to speak with the driver and get a better feel for the situation.
Whatever your case for getting stopped by police, if you want to challenge the stop in court, consider hiring a skilled defense team to make your case on your behalf. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it for you. Reach out to Appelman Law Firm today.