Articles Posted in Traffic Stop

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The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that police cannot search you or your property without a warrant or probable cause.smartphone_cellphone_apps_text_sex

So what happens if law enforcement officers violate this protection? Is there anything you can do if police illegally searched you and you were convicted of a crime based on the evidence they found? A recent California Supreme Court decision proves that you should never give up on your case if your rights were violated.

Can Police Search You During a Traffic Stop?

The case (People v. Macabeo, 2016 DJDAR 11973) involved a man who was riding his bike in Torrance. Under Vehicle Code Section 21200, bicyclists in California must follow the same rules of the road as drivers. So when the man rode past a stop sign without stopping, he was stopped by police officers.

This traffic violation is a minor infraction, but the officers treated it like a serious crime. They patted down the man and found his cellphone. Without his consent, the officers went through the man’s phone and discovered images of child pornography.

The man was arrested and charged with child pornography possession. However, the defendant felt that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when police searched him during a routine traffic stop. Did police have a reason to search him without first obtaining a warrant?

Police Can’t Search Your Cellphone without a Warrant

Based on the belief that the search he was subjected to was illegal, the man appealed the denial of a motion his lawyer had brought to suppress the evidence in trial court. However, the Second District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s decision. Many people would give up after this, but the defendant and his appellate lawyer took the case all the way to the California Supreme Court. Continue reading →

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You lost your wallet, and therefore your driver’s license. Not to worry though; you’ve secured a ride with your friend for the night. On the way home, your friend’s driving catches the eye of a police officer, who orders your friend to pull over. Are you in jeopardy of being arrested because you do not have your ID?Taking-License-300x174.jpg

You Have the Right to Refuse to Show Your ID

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that so-called “stop and identify” statutes, which require that you show identification to law enforcement officers when they ask, do not violate Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, so long as the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in criminal activity.1

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Many drivers dread the sight of a police car in the review mirror, hoping the sudden flashing of lights and blaring of a siren will not ruin their day. Should that happen to you, it is important that you understand what the police are and are not allowed to do during a traffic stop.


Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. Over time and through various Supreme Court decisions, the Fourth Amendment has come to mean that you cannot be arrested (or “seized”) without probable cause, which requires that law enforcement officials had reason to believe you committed a crime, were in the act of committing a crime, or were about to commit a crime.

However, the standard that an officer must meet simply to pull you over is not as high as probable cause. To initiate a traffic stop, all an officer must have is a “reasonable suspicion.” Reasonable suspicion is a standard established by the Supreme Court in a 1968 case in which it ruled that police officers should be allowed to stop and briefly detain you if there is reason to believe that you are engaging in criminal activity.

Notice the difference between the two standards: probable cause is from the point of view of a reasonable person; reasonable suspicion is from the point of view of a reasonable police officer.

What Officers Can and Cannot Do

Without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, officers are very limited in what they are allowed to ask of you during a traffic stop. They can:

  • Ask you for your identification, driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance.
  • Act on circumstances or facts that provide reasonable suspicion or probable cause that you engaged in criminal activity.
  • Conduct a “sniff test” for drugs outside of the vehicle with a police dog (K9 unit), provided the sniff test does not extend the length of the stop.

There are many acts an officer cannot do if he or she stops you and doesn’t have reasonable suspicion. An officer cannot:

  • Search your vehicle without your consent. Always remember that you have the right to refuse a search of your vehicle!
  • Detain you for longer than necessary to affect the reason for the stop.

Continue reading →

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