Getting Pulled Over – for no reason

You are driving along, minding your own business, maybe humming to your favorite song, paying attention to your speed, and keeping an eye on the flow of traffic, when all of a sudden it happens: you spy red and blue flashing lights reflected in your rearview mirror.

Your heart pounds loudly against your chest, your blood pressure zooms up to the roof, and you hold your breath as you quickly double check your speedometer and scan the road for a place to pull over. That does it: your day has now officially become a disaster. Is this even legal? Can you get stopped for no apparent reason?

If you were speeding or changing lanes without signaling, you would understand, but if you weren’t doing any of this, and you were carefully observing traffic laws, then the law is on your side and, generally speaking, the rule of thumb is that the police have no right to stop you just for the sake of stopping you. If you do get pulled over for no apparent reason, and in the course of the traffic stop, the officer notices something suspicious, such as drugs that are clearly visible next to you on the seat, a skilled attorney will be able to prevent the State from presenting it as evidence in court. BUT—and this is important—there are exceptions.

Police Need a Reasonable Suspicion to Pull You Over

It is legal and perfectly permissible for a police officer to stop you for a reasonable cause. A reasonable cause might be erratic driving, changing lanes without looking, or swerving in and out of traffic. If the police see behavior like this, they are within their rights to stop you, because it is their job to investigate dangerous or suspicious activity that might indicate drunk driving.

Even if it turns out you haven’t been drinking alcohol and are totally clean and sober, you can still get stopped if your driving was inconsistent enough to catch the officer’s attention. And this might be the case if you were trying to retrieve something you dropped or were fiddling with the radio controls. This is the type of situation that leaves you vulnerable to a charge of inattentive driving or endangering yourself or others on the highway.

You can also be pulled over if the car you are driving matches the description of a vehicle suspected to be involved in any type of crime. It frequently happens that such information is broadcast over the police radio, or it might come from a tip that has been passed on to the officer. Even if your car is not tagged as suspicious, your activity might be, and police can stop you if your general appearance is similar to that of someone suspected of being involved in criminal activity. Police can also stop you and perform a brief search if there is reason to suspect your behavior is criminal or that you are engaged in illegal activities. This is known as a “stop and frisk” or a Terry stop. The name derives from a Supreme Court case of 1968, Terry v. Ohio.

Police Can’t Use Evidence Against You if it Was Illegally Obtained

It has been established that police are not allowed to randomly and haphazardly choose vehicles to stop. However, technically speaking, this does happen on occasion. If an officer of the law stops you with no justification and then happens to see contraband or any type of illegal substance, such as a crack pipe, s/he might want to justify your arrest by making a charge of drug possession.

As a general application, this is not legal on the officer’s part because the officer was not aware of the illegal substance prior to stopping you. There is a name for this mandate: it is called the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, and it dictates that evidence obtained as a result of an unauthorized stop or search cannot be used in a courtroom situation even if it does bolster possible conviction of a crime. Such evidence in this case falls under the Exclusionary Rule. But it is important to understand that there are exceptions to this also. Evidence seized under these circumstances (that might normally be thrown out) can be introduced under specific circumstances:

Contact the Attorneys at Herbert & Lux today for a free consultation. Our experienced attorneys can evaluate the issues and facts in your case to help you prepare the best defense for your case and strive to achieve the best possible outcome for our clients.