If you’ve been pulled over by the police and accused of driving while drunk or other crimes, it’s important for you to know if that stop was lawful. If the traffic stop was not lawful, then any evidence collected during it could be thrown out, and you could walk away without penalties.
There are many ways in which a traffic stop could be unlawful, but at the core, a traffic stop is unlawful when a police officer stops you without probable cause. That means that the officer must believe that you’ve committed at least a minor traffic error to pull you over.
Some common reasons for lawful traffic stops include:
- Not using a turn signal when moving between lanes
- Failing to fully stop at a red light or stop sign
- Not using a turn signal while turning
- Weaving in traffic
- Not having working taillights or brake lights
These and other minor violations could be enough for an officer to reasonably pull you over.
When is it illegal to stop someone?
An unlawful stop happens when an officer stops someone erroneously or when they know that no violations have occurred. For example, an officer can’t just stop your vehicle because you are a person of color. An officer may not stop your vehicle “for fun,” either.
If an officer stops you for a violation that isn’t actually prohibited by law, you may be able to get the stop thrown out in court, too.
What should you do if you think you’ve been unlawfully stopped?
If you think that your traffic stop was a violation of your civil rights, it’s a good idea to write down exactly what happened but also to be polite and respectful to the officer. You don’t have to say anything that might incriminate you, but you may ask why you’ve been pulled over. The officer may ask for your personal information, such as your license and registration. You should provide that identifying information when it’s requested.
Remember that you don’t have to say or do something that could lead to charges. You have a right to stay silent, and you may want to do so until you know your legal rights.