No one likes seeing the flashing red and blue lights of a police car in their rearview mirror. Being pulled over is an inconvenience at best. It can lead to the issuance of a traffic ticket that comes with a hefty fine and make you late for whatever appointment you were trying to get to. In other more serious situations, your traffic stop may turn into an arrest after police search your car and find drugs or other evidence of a crime.
Although law enforcement officers cannot stop random vehicles without a reason to do so, the amount of evidence an officer needs to pull you over is surprisingly small. What is more, an officer who has this little bit of evidence can use it to stop you and potentially investigate you for a completely unrelated crime.
Traffic Stops Must Be Based on Reasonable Suspicion
The legal standard applicable to traffic stops is reasonable suspicion. In other words, in order to legally stop a motor vehicle if the officer has reasonable suspicion that an occupant in the vehicle has, is, or is about to commit a crime. Once the officer has met this burden, they may pull your vehicle over and investigate the crime for which they have reasonable suspicion.
How much evidence of criminal activity is needed before an officer has reasonable suspicion? The answer is, “Not much.” Reasonable suspicion is a burden that is more than a mere hunch but less than probable cause. All that is required is some objective evidence that, based on the officer’s training an experience, make it reasonable for an officer to suspect your car is connected to a criminal act.
Committing any traffic infraction is enough to meet the burden of reasonable suspicion, including equipment violations like not have enough working headlights. An officer also has reasonable suspicion if your vehicle matches the description of a vehicle involved in a reported crime.
Pretextual Stops are Okay Under the Law
Oftentimes, officers care little about the actual crime they observed you commit but are looking for evidence of a more serious crime. For example, an officer will often pull you over if they see you swerve late at night not just because you committed a traffic infraction but because they want to see if you are driving under influence.
These pretextual traffic stops are permitted under the law. The officer must address the reason they pulled you over. However, if during the course of doing so they develop evidence suggesting you have committed other crimes, then they can prolong your stop and investigate those crimes, too. A traffic stop can be legal even if the officer does not find any evidence you committed any crime at all.
You Still Have Rights During Traffic Stops
Even though it might seem as if you are at the mercy of law enforcement if they choose to stop you, you do have rights. If you end up facing criminal charges as the result of a traffic stop, it is critical that you speak with an experienced San Antonio criminal defense lawyer to ensure your constitutional rights were not violated during the stop.
Contact the Law Office of Kerrisa Chelkowski and schedule your case evaluation as soon as possible. Dial (210) 288-9393 or contact our office online to get started.