The flashing lights of a police car can strike fear into anyone’s heart, especially for people directed to pull their vehicles over. In some cases, the cause is unwarranted. Knowing what to do in these situations has a great deal of influence toward how things will eventually play out.

What Should I Do if I am Pulled Over?

If the police vehicle is directly behind a car and has its emergency lights and siren on, it is essential to signal and pull over immediately into a safe place. The car’s engine should be turned off. It is a good idea to be courteous, which can include turning on the interior light if it is dark out and having a driver’s license and registration ready for inspection.

Drivers should roll down the windows, but never exit the vehicles unless the officer directs them to do so. Also, any unexpected movements could lead the officer to think that the driver is reaching for a weapon, so it is important to be mindful of this.

What Prompts Police Stops?

Some of the most common traffic stops are for violations like speeding, illegal turns, or failing to stop for school buses. Minor infractions that could lead to stops include not wearing a seat belt, inoperative equipment, or darkly tinted windows. Outside the category of traffic violations and infractions, drivers can be pulled over for outstanding warrants, reasonable suspicion of having committed criminal activity, or probable cause.

Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause

Reasonable suspicion is usually based on information and personal observations from witnesses, police officers, and the police radio. In these cases, the officer should have reason for believing a traffic violation or crime was committed, if a person is planning to commit one, or if the driver is hiding evidence of a crime. This suspicion must be based on specific circumstances or facts. An example is when an officer sees a motorist weaving in and out of lanes. This could cause the officer to reasonably suspect that the driver is driving under the influence (DUI).

To prove probable cause, the officer is required to show evidence or facts that would cause a person to believe that the driver committed a crime or plans to do so. If a police officer pulls over a vehicle and sees an open container of alcohol on the floor, they would have probable cause to search the car.

Unlawful Stops

Unfortunately, there are times when police officers make unlawful stops. Sometimes, an officer will pull over a vehicle because they have a feeling that something illegal is happening. This does not usually qualify as reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

One example of an unlawful stop might be pulling over a patron who has just left a bar. If the person is exhibiting DUI/DWI behaviors, like erratic or aggressive driving, there may be reason to stop that person. However, if they simply left the premises and were driving normally, there may be no reason to pull them over. There have been instances of police officers pulling over random drivers, which can violate drivers’ constitutional rights.

Can a Police Officer Search a Vehicle at a Traffic Stop?

Law enforcement officers who pull over drivers for traffic violations are not allowed to search the vehicles, except in certain situations. Officers will look for suspicious movements and anything out in the open, like alcohol, drugs, or weapons. If the officer feels that the driver or passenger is attempting to hide something, a search may be warranted.

If the officer insists that the driver and passengers exit the vehicle, they should do so. It is also permissible for the officer to do a fast pat-down of the outer clothing. If the officer detects weapon-like objects or contraband, they are allowed to remove it. If they perceive that the suspect is dangerous, a search of the passenger compartments may also be legal. As for a cellphone, this cannot be searched without a person’s consent or a warrant.

If a driver believes that they experienced an unlawful police stop, it is best to contact a lawyer. An experienced lawyer can help protect a driver’s rights.

South Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyers at Aita Law, LLC Protect Drivers Accused of Crimes at Unlawful Police Stops

Unlawful police stops happen every day. If you are facing charges after an unlawful police stop, reach out to one of our trusted South Jersey criminal defense lawyers at Aita Law, LLC. Complete our online form or call us at 856-287-7800 for a free consultation. Located in Haddonfield and Marlton, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill and Camden County.