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Did Police Violate Your Rights During a Traffic Stop?

Posted by Philip Israels | May 07, 2019

Police can't pull you over on a traffic stop without probable cause. In other words, they must have a valid reason to pull you over in the first place or it's an illegal stop. For example, typical reasons used by police to pull you over for driving under the influence (DUI) include lane weaving and driving without headlights.

Unfortunately, there are many cases where police will pull someone over because they simply believe you might possibly be driving under the influence, such as situations where they will wait outside a nightclub or restaurant waiting for you to leave, and then follow.

In this situation, they will often closely examine every little detail in the manner your car is driven seeking the slightest driving infraction to give them a reason to conduct a traffic stop. In some cases, they simply don't have a valid reason, but will pull you over anyway.

After they stopped your car, you will frequently find yourself  taking a breath test and common field sobriety tests. If the police officer has reason to believe you were driving drunk, you will be arrested for DUI.

Unlawful Police Stop

In some cases, it might be possible for our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys to challenge the validity of the traffic stop. If we are successful, the evidence obtained after you were pulled over will be excluded. In most cases, when this happens, the prosecutor would not be able to move forward with the case.

This “probable cause” rule also applies to other situations that don't involve suspicion of drunk driving. In Los Angeles County, most drivers will at some point in their life be pulled over on a traffic stop and issued a citation for a driving violation or given a warning. In some cases, the initial traffic stop will escalate into a criminal investigation.

Many California drivers don't know their legal rights during a traffic stop. Just because you have been pulled over, it doesn't mean your legal rights have been forfeited. Consequently, some drivers will start answering certain questions or provide police with information that prolongs the stop for further investigation.

In some cases, these type of intrusive traffic stops can violate your constitutional rights and might even lead to a criminal case being filed against you.  If you have reason to believe your rights may have been violated during a traffic stop, consult with our California criminal defense lawyers to thoroughly review the details of your traffic stop and discuss legal options moving forward.

Your Legal Rights During a Traffic Stop in California 

In order to know if your rights were violated by police during a traffic stop, you must first have an understanding of your rights. Let's review these rights below.

Police must have a valid reason to conduct a traffic stop.  As stated above, police can't legally pull you over on a traffic stop without probable cause you violated the law.  It should be noted that even a minor traffic violation, such as expired tags or failing to use a turn signal, is sufficient probable cause to initiate a traffic stop. If the police officer ask you if you are aware of why they pulled you over, it's always best to answer “no” and don' make any admissions.

You have a right to remain silent. You don't have to answer questions from police after you have been pulled over. The United States Supreme Court has ruled you need to exercise your right to remain silent by telling the police officer. You can't be arrested or detained for simply exercising this right. Clearly, in most cases, it's in your best interest to cooperate during a routine traffic stop by giving police your California drivers license and registration without resistance. However, you don't have a legal obligation to answer their questions, but you should be polite. Use common sense here.

You don't have to give police consent to search your vehicle. In many cases, police officers will ask you for consent to search your car after you were pulled over for a traffic violation. If they have no warrant or probable cause, you simply don't have to give them consent to search your vehicle. You need make it clear you are not giving consent, but again be polite. Police are not required to tell you that you have the right to just refuse a search.

Your length of detention must be reasonable. Clearly, it's legal for police to pull you over after after an alleged traffic offense, but it does not give them a legal right to detain you for an indefinite amount of time. So, exactly how long is too long? It's important to note there is no specific amount of time that has been established when detaining you on a traffic stop. Normally, police will need a reasonable amount of time to check records on your  driver's license. If you have been detained more then 30 minutes, you should politely ask the police officer the reason why you are still being detained.

Finally, you have the legal right to document the traffic stop, but can't interfere with a police officer conducting an investigation. Just use common sense as you might find yourself getting arrested for obstruction of justice. You can also ask the police officer for their name and badge number, but again, be polite and don't get aggressive.

How a Routine Traffic Stop Can Lead Serious Criminal Charges

A traffic stop is a common method for police to initiate first contact with citizens. There are a wide variety of criminal cases filed from a traffic stop after police search the vehicle and discover illegal items, such as drug possession or paraphernalia. As stated above, police must have probable cause to search a vehicle.

If they don't, the illegal items they seized can be suppressed through a motion to suppress evidence under California Penal Code 1538.5. If the motion is successful, the evidence found during the vehicle search can't be used in court.

Typically, if the prosecutor can't use the evidence found during a search, they will then find themselves with insufficient evidence to prove their case against you and will dismiss the charges. Whether or not a traffic stop and search of your vehicle violated your constitutional rights is a complex legal issue.

Therefore, if you have been arrested and charged with a crime after a traffic stop, you should let our experienced criminal defense lawyers thoroughly evaluate the facts surrounding your traffic stop in an effort to identify any legal violations. We can assist you by filing the proper motions in court to get the evidence that was gathered during the illegal search suppressed.

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About the Author

Philip Israels

Phil Israels was raised in California's Central Valley where he still has family. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley where he was a member for Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and studied Economics, he continued his education...

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