This is a question we are asked all the time.  When can the police stop my car? The answer is: when the police have reasonable suspicion they may stop your vehicle.

What is Reasonable Suspicion?

Under Terry v. Ohio, an officer may only stop a vehicle if that officer has “reasonable suspicion” that the driver has committed, or is about to commit, a crime. Reasonable suspicion can be many different things, but most commonly it takes the form of an alleged traffic violation like an illegal turn, failure to use a blinker, or speeding.  Other times, officers may cite some form of equipment malfunction as reasonable suspicion, like a broken windshield or having a headlight out.

What if the police stop my car without Reasonable Suspicion?

If the police conduct a traffic stop without reasonable suspicion, it may be possible to get evidence which was gathered during the traffic stop suppressed.  Evidence that is suppressed cannot be taken into account by the judge or jury in a trial. Therefore, it is extremely important that you have an experienced criminal defense attorney analyze and prepare your case to figure out whether there was reasonable suspicion for the stop in your case.

What can the police search if they stop my car?

Just like every other aspect of life, there are rules when it comes to the search of a vehicle, and police must play by these rules. If an officer conducts a legal traffic stop, they may have the driver of the vehicle step out of the car for the safety of the officer. At this point, the officer can search any place that is within arm’s reach of the driver (under the seat, the glove box, the console, ect…).  Officers may search these areas for officer safety as well. Furthermore, the police can use any evidence that is in their plain view. If the police go beyond their legal ability to search a vehicle, evidence found as a result of the illegal search and seizure may have a good possibility of being suppressed (not being presented to the jury at trial or considered by the judge, if there’s no jury).

Can police search my car if it is broken down on the side of the road?

If the police tow a vehicle, they have the ability to search the vehicle and do an inventory of the contents of that vehicle. What this means is, if your vehicle is broken down and has evidence of a crime inside the vehicle, an officer who has the car towed from the side of the road may legally discover evidence of a crime by doing an inventory search of the vehicle.

There are many rules and different lines of case law which pertain to the stop and search of vehicles.  If you or someone you know has been the subject of a search, call us today for a consultation.