What Makes a Traffic Stop Legal?

Even the most careful and upstanding citizens may find themselves being pulled over by a police officer at some point in their lives. However, if the traffic stop starts to feel invasive and like it may be something more than issuing a citation or warning, you may begin to wonder if it is legal.

Do police officers need a reason to stop you?

A police officer is not allowed to pull you over for no reason at all. They must have reasonable suspicion to legally pull you over, which means they must suspect that you have committed a crime or that something is wrong with your vehicle. In fact, most officers use minor violations to stop a vehicle when they suspect that the driver or passengers are involved in more serious criminal acts. Some of the common minor traffic violations that police officers may pull someone over for include:

  • Failing to use a turn signal
  • Driving over the speed limit
  • Missing or broken taillight
  • Improper lane change
  • Windows are too dark
  • Windshield is broken
  • Driving too closely to other vehicles
  • Texting and driving

What are my rights after being pulled over?

Regardless of whether the officer had a right to pull you over, you have certain rights that must be respected during a traffic stop, such as:

  • You do not have to answer any questions: You and your passengers have the right to stay silent, which means that you do not have to answer any of the officer’s questions. However, you must give your legal name to the officer. Other than that, you do not need to give out any personal information that you do not want to. Instead, tell the officer that you are invoking your legal right to remain silent. While this may anger or frustrate the officer, they cannot force you to answer their questions as it is your legal right to be silent.
  • You do not have to allow the officer to search your vehicle: If an officer asks to search your vehicle, you do not have to give permission for them to do so. The reason for this is because the Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable search and seizures. Therefore, they must have probable cause in order to start a search. Probable cause is when the officer has reasonable belief that a crime is being committed or that evidence of a crime is present, which may lead them to wanting to search your vehicle. However, you can let the officer know that you are not consenting to the search, but it is important that you do not resist if they continue to search anyway. Instead, you can let your lawyer know that you did not give permission for the search, and they will work hard to get the evidence thrown out if there was no probable cause found.
  • You can only be stopped for a certain period of time: A police officer can only stop you for a reasonable amount of time. Therefore, if the original reason was to pull you over for a broken windshield, they cannot detain you for longer than it takes to let you know why you were pulled over, run your license and registration, and provide a warning or issue a ticket for the windshield. In order to keep you any longer than that, they must have probable cause that a crime is in progress or was committed. You should keep your eye on the time if possible because your attorney can use this information to show that you were detained for far too long.

Can police officers use force when making a traffic stop?

Law enforcement officers are not allowed to use force whenever they feel like it or simply want to. They are only allowed to use force to defend themselves from harm or to make an arrest. If an officer used excessive force, it will be evaluated in court to determine if the amount of force was reasonable. The court may base their decision on a few different factors including:

  • Was the suspect trying to flee or resist arrest?
  • What was the severity of the crime that the individual committed?
  • Was the suspect a danger to the community or surrounding areas?

If the officer used unreasonable amounts of force, they have gone against the law and participated in police brutality.

What if the police officer arrests you or does not let you go?

If a police officer arrests you or does not let you go, you are now considered to be in the custody of law enforcement. However, you do not have to answer any questions, and they must read you your Miranda Rights. These rights allow you to remain silent, to have an attorney present, and to have an attorney appointed if you are unable to afford one. If an officer has asked you any questions while in custody without reading you these rights, they have violated your constitutional rights.

How a Franklin, TN criminal defense lawyer can help

If you believe that your traffic stop was illegal and that a police officer violated your rights, the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates has the experience and skills to help you identify and investigate police misconduct as well as build a strong case against the officers who violated your rights. Our criminal defense attorneys will work endlessly to show that your constitutional rights were violated, which may result in the judge dismissing your charges.

It is important to also know that if you believe that the officer used excessive force during your traffic stop and that you are a victim of police brutality, you are protected under a specific federal law called 42 U.S. Code 1983. As a result, you can file a lawsuit against the police officer to seek damages for your injuries, emotional trauma, pain and suffering, doctor bills, or other financial losses that the police brutality caused you. If you lost a family member or loved one due to police brutality, you can also file a lawsuit to help you pay for the funeral, burial, loss of companionship, and more.

The Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates has helped many clients who had their rights violated by officers. We know how to identify, investigate, and use these violations to help get charges dismissed. Therefore, if you have been illegally stopped, arrested, or charged by a police officer, please reach out to our Franklin criminal defense lawyers at your earliest convenience to begin discussing your options. Call our office or submit our contact form to schedule a consultation at one of our offices in Franklin, Columbia, and Brentwood.