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When does a traffic stop violate your constitutional rights?

On Behalf of | Feb 28, 2024 | Criminal Law |

A traffic stop after a night out can be a highly stressful situation, especially if it is your first encounter with law enforcement. You probably would not even know what to do or say when the officer begins asking you questions. To protect yourself from unfair policing, you must be aware of your constitutional rights and how they limit law enforcement from doing whatever they please while conducting a traffic stop.

When the officer had no reason to stop your vehicle

Routine traffic stops are illegal in Montana. An officer may only pull your vehicle over if they have reason to suspect that you or one of the vehicle occupants has committed, is committing or will commit a crime. They must immediately inform you why they stopped your vehicle. The reason they give must be observable and articulable, meaning it should be valid, not based on gut feeling or intuition. For example, an officer cannot stop a vehicle simply because the driver stepped out of an establishment that serves liquor. They can, however, pull you over if you are driving recklessly and violating traffic laws.

When the officer kept you longer than necessary

Suppose an officer pulled you over for a broken taillight or expired plates. In that case, their reason had nothing to do with you driving under the influence. They can request documentation, including your driver’s license and registration. While you reach for your license, keep your hands in plain view. Comply with the officer, but avoid answering questions that may give them reason to suspect you have been drinking. Ask the officer politely if you can leave. They cannot detain you for longer than necessary, which should be a reasonable amount of time for the initial traffic stop violation. Otherwise, it would be illegal seizure and detainment.

When the officer searches your vehicle without your consent

The officer may ask to search your vehicle, and you can politely refuse. They cannot force you to submit to a search unless they have a warrant or reasonable cause. Avoid giving them any by volunteering unnecessary information or behaving irrationally.

Remember, an officer cannot force you to answer questions and they cannot do anything that violates your rights. If they do, whatever evidence they obtain from the traffic stop can be inadmissible in court.