Reviewing the Constitutional Laws of Police Traffic Stops
When driving on a California street or highway, the police can't legally pull you over on a traffic stop unless they have a reason. In other words, you must have committed some illegal activity.
To pull you over on a police traffic stop, they must have probable cause, described as evidence that would make a reasonable person believe a crime could have been committed. Simply put, probable cause gives law enforcement the police legal authority to pull you over.
For example, a police officer will typically write in their report that they were legally justified to pull you over because they observed you:
- running a red light,
- not stopping at a stop sign,
- swerving in lanes of traffic,
- driving without headlights,
- excessive braking, or
- reckless driving.
If the police didn't have probable cause to pull you over, they could have violated your constitutional rights.
If you were pulled over with no traffic law violations or police had no reasonable cause, then any evidence seized could be found inadmissible in court.
All motorists have Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights against unreasonable police searches and seizures, which are rights under the state constitution.
The United States Supreme Court has interpreted these rights to mean that police can't make a traffic stop of a motorist without reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime is underway. In other words, a police officer must have observed some violation and be able to justify a traffic stop on reasonable suspicion.
Why Do Grounds for Police Stops Matter?
Legal arguments over whether police had reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop are relevant to the outcome of DUI cases.
Reasonable suspicion is relevant because the exclusionary rule established in the infamous Supreme Court case Mapp v Ohio requires courts to reject evidence police illegally gained that violated Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
However, the exclusionary rule has many exceptions, but if your rights against unreasonable search and seizure for pulling you over without reasonable suspicion justifying the stop, then evidence the police gained by making the stop could be inadmissible in court.
Your DUI lawyer could move with a motion to exclude well before trial to exclude evidence gained from an illegal stop.
If the judge grants the motion and the prosecutor does not have other evidence to prove their case, they will typically be forced to drop the charges.
Can You Get a Reduced Charge?
A valid argument for excluding evidence from questionable police conduct can also influence a prosecutor to reduce the charge or dismiss the case.
Put simply, traffic stops where police lacked reasonable suspicion put all of the evidence at risk. The derivative evidence doctrine, called the “fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine,” typically bars other evidence acquired from the initial illegal search and seizure.
An unlawful police stop can destroy a prosecutor's DUI case. Derivative evidence that can be excluded due to insufficient grounds for a traffic stop includes the police officers:
- observation of the car driver's glassy eyes and slurred speech;
- observation of open beverages or drugs in the vehicle;
- field sobriety test results after the traffic stop;
- preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test results;
- blood-alcohol and breath test results after the traffic stop;
- confessions by the driver after the illegal stop; and
- statements from passengers inside the vehicle.
What Are Some Examples of a Reasonable Suspicion to Stop a Vehicle?
Police must typically record and be able to recall specific observable driver conduct to justify their traffic stop on suspicion of a DUI crime. Thus, a lawful police stop of a vehicle typically follows traditional reasons, such as:
- lane violations and weaving across painted traffic lines;
- speeding over the posted limit;
- driving a vehicle at night with no headlights;
- unreasonably slow driving speedcreating a hazard;
- wrong-way drivingdown a one-way street;
- running stop signs or red lights;
- near-miss vehicle accidents;
- excessive brakingwhen conditions do not warrant it;
- u-turns and illegal turns against traffic laws;
What Are Sobriety Checkpoints?
Sobriety checkpoints in California are the exceptions to the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments' reasonable suspicion requirement.
The U.S. Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court ruled that roadside sobriety checkpoints are allowed administrative inspections without specific cause of stopped vehicle drivers. Still, there are several requirements that sobriety checkpoints must meet, such as:
- police can't profile drivers, and
- detain them for more than a brief inspection to check for signs of intoxication.
California Vehicle Code 2814.2 VC requires car drivers to stop at adequately marked sobriety checkpoints.
What Are the Defenses for DUI Charges?
If you are the victim of an unlawful police traffic stop, you should fight the charges. We would have to show how the traffic stop was unjustified.
Our law firm may be able to investigate the incident and find the real truth that led to your VC 23152 driving under the influence arrest. We must also review the field sobriety test and any breath or blood tests administered after pulling you over.
If your arrest occurred at a DUI sobriety checkpoint, we could review whether it was set up lawfully, as police are required to follow specific rules. If they don't follow the proper procedures, any criminal charges against you could be dismissed.
Regardless of the circumstances of your California Vehicle Code 23152 DUI charge, whether it is a first-time DUI, multiple DUIs, felony DUI, or a VC 23153 DUI causing an injury, we can defend you. Further, we know how to protect your driver's license at the DMV administrative hearing, which has to be scheduled within ten days of your arrest.
Cron, Israels & Stark is located in Los Angeles, California. We offer a free case evaluation by phone, or you can fill out the contact form.