Defending against an Unlawful Police Stop

How an attorney can help if you feel you were unlawfully stopped. 

When driving on the roads, one of the most unsettling experiences can be getting pulled over by a police officer. Most traffic stops are routine, involving checks for speeding, compliance with traffic signals, or vehicle safety issues. However, not all stops are lawful, and understanding your rights during an unlawful traffic stop is crucial.

This guide will explore what constitutes an unlawful traffic stop, the legal remedies available, and how one can protect oneself from the repercussions of such encounters.

What is an Unlawful Traffic Stop?

An unlawful traffic stop occurs when a law enforcement officer stops a vehicle without a legitimate reason or sufficient suspicion of wrongdoing. Under U.S. law, specifically the Fourth Amendment, citizens are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures.

This means that a police officer must have reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed, is being committed, or is about to be committed before stopping a vehicle.

Key Factors Leading to an Unlawful Stop

  • Lack of Reasonable Suspicion: If a police officer cannot justify a traffic stop with specific, articulable facts leading to a suspicion of criminal activity, the stop may be deemed unlawful.
  • Racial Profiling: Stops based solely on the race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion of the driver can be unlawful.
  • Non-Compliance with Legal Standards: Failure to adhere to the legal standards and requirements that sobriety checkpoints must meet may also render a stop unlawful.

The Impact of Supreme Court Rulings

Several Supreme Court cases have shaped the policies surrounding traffic stops in the United States. The courts have repeatedly affirmed that any evidence obtained from an illegal stop, including that resulting from an unreasonable search and seizure, should be excluded from trial. This principle helps ensure that the rights of individuals are protected by discouraging law enforcement officers from conducting stops without proper justification.

The Role of Evidence in Unlawful Stops

The evidence gathered during an unlawful traffic stop is often deemed inadmissible in court. For instance, if a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test result was obtained during an illegally conducted stop, it might be excluded, significantly impacting the prosecution’s case in a DUI matter. This principle is a part of what is known in legal circles as the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine.

How to Handle an Unlawful Traffic Stop

During the Stop

  1. Stay Calm and Composed: Keep your hands visible, avoid making sudden movements, and do not exit the vehicle unless instructed.
  2. Be Respectful but Reserved: Cooperate to the extent required by law, but avoid providing more information than necessary.
  3. Inquire About the Reason for the Stop: Politely ask the officer why you were stopped to gauge if they provide a legally sufficient reason.

After the Stop

  1. Document Everything: Record details like the time, location, and the officer’s badge number. Note down everything said and done during the stop.
  2. Contact a Lawyer: Consult with a car accident attorney or a legal expert specializing in car accident law or traffic violations. They can offer guidance on whether your rights were violated and what steps to take next.

Legal Remedies and Defenses

If you believe you were subjected to an unlawful traffic stop, there are several legal paths you might consider:

  • Filing a Motion to Suppress Evidence: This is crucial if unlawful evidence might be used against you.
  • Civil Rights Lawsuit: If the stop involved egregious violations of your rights, a civil suit might be appropriate.
  • Complaints Against the Officer: Filing a formal complaint can prompt an internal review, which may lead to discipline or policy changes.

Role of Attorneys in Contesting Unlawful Stops

A car accident attorney or a defense lawyer can play a pivotal role in defending against charges stemming from an unlawful traffic stop. They can help:

  • Analyze the legality of the stop: Your attorney can determine whether the stop violated your constitutional rights.
  • Challenge the prosecution’s case: If the stop is deemed unlawful, the prosecution must exclude any evidence obtained as a result.
  • Negotiate with prosecutors: An experienced lawyer can negotiate to have charges reduced or dismissed, especially if the evidence is weak or illegally obtained.

Contact Joel Berman Law Firm for Legal Assistance with Your Traffic Law Case 

Understanding your rights regarding unlawful police stops and knowing how to react can significantly affect the outcome of such encounters. By staying informed and prepared, you can ensure your rights are protected. If you find yourself the victim of what you believe to be an unlawful stop, do not hesitate to seek legal help to contest any charges and assert your rights.

In cases of unlawful traffic stops, knowing the traffic laws, and understanding the requirements that sobriety checkpoints must meet can equip you with the knowledge needed to protect yourself from illegal police practices.

Contact Joel Berman Law Firm for assistance with traffic law.