Pretextual Traffic Stop

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 12:00am

What is a pretextual traffic stop?

A pretextual traffic stop is any detainer of a motor vehicle for a purpose other than enforcing traffic laws.  Very typically this is for the enforcement of other laws.  For example, a passenger automobile crosses the center line (or is traveling at 1 mph above the speed limit, or has a broken or dim tail light, or has a license plate cover, or has windows that may be tinted beyond the limits allowed by statute, ad nauseam), and is stopped by a police officer.  The driver is arrested for DUI (or drug possession or trafficking or whatever more serious offense).

Why does this happen?  The police suspect (or have profiled) your vehicle based on criteria that do not give them probable cause to detain or arrest you for the crime they suspect you of.  So they follow you around until you commit some minor traffic offense.  Then they stop you.  And search you.  And arrest you for the serious offense that they wanted to check you out for in the first place.

It is not uncommon that the traffic offense is never even charged or that the DA is willing to drop the traffic charge during plea negotiations.

What can you do about it?

Well, first, don't commit traffic offenses.  This is harder than it sounds as there are many laws on the books.  However, if you haven't committed a traffic offense then, when the police stop you anyway, you are more likely to defeat a criminal charge arising from the stop.  Make sure your car is in good visible condition.  A junker is more likely to be stopped than a car in good shape.

Second, don't give the police permission to search your vehicle.  Ask if you may leave.  The police are only allowed to keep you for as long as it takes to reasonably investigate the offense for which you were stopped.  If they don't find probable cause to further detain you after the traffic stop then they are supposed to let you leave and, if they do not do so, a criminal charge arising from the unlawful further detention is easier to defeat.  However, if you verbally give them permission to conduct further searches (and this happens all the time), then they can keep you as long as they need to conduct their search, have their dogs sniff the car, etc.

Third, don't tell the police anything, don't agree to talk with them without a lawyer present.  Once you have a lawyer, keep refusing to talk to them.

If you are the victim of a pretextual stop you need to talk to a lawyer right away.  We are happy to help.  Call us at (405)601-9393.


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