People in the United States are innocent until proven guilty, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is stressful getting pulled over by an officer. The Fourth Amendment is an important protection, stating that law enforcement must have an articulable suspicion for stopping someone in public or pulling them over if they are driving.
Legal reasons for a stop
There are specific legal parameters that law enforcement must follow for a lawful stop:
- Reasonable suspicion: Common examples of this include erratic driving, driving too fast or too slow for the conditions, weaving dangerously between lanes, or there are signs that the driver is impaired.
- Moving violation: This involves speeding, not stopping at stop signs or other violations of the posted rules. The officer can also stop vehicles with safety violations, including burnt-out headlights or taillights, no license plate, out-of-date tabs, or illegal vehicle modifications.
- Occupants of a similar vehicle committed a crime: While less likely, the officer may have received a report of a crime involving similar-looking vehicle occupants or the vehicle itself.
- Roadside checkpoints: It is legal for law enforcement to conduct roadside checkpoints with the predetermined purpose of identifying intoxicated drivers. However, vehicles selected to stop must be suspicious or picked at random (such as one of every five vehicles).
If the officer pulls over a vehicle, they can search the interior (including the glove compartment). They will need probable cause to look for contraband or instruments of criminal activity in the trunk.
Know your rights
It is essential to cooperate with law enforcement by pulling over when it is safe to do so, providing a license and registration, and remaining calm and respectful. You need not answer questions that could incriminate yourself, but you should do it respectfully. The number one goal during a stop is to avoid escalating the situation. You can also speak with a criminal defense attorney if you were not treated fairly or the officer violated your rights.