Illegal Traffic Stops - The Basics
Illegal traffic stops involve situations where the police officer’s conduct in stopping you fails to meet the Constitutional requirement of “reasonable & articulable” suspicion. To be lawful, an automobile stop must be predicated on specific and articulable facts giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that you have committed one or more motor vehicle violations. What does this all mean?
Unless a police officer can point to the reason for stopping you, then this will be considered an illegal traffic stop. The police need more than a “hunch” or “a feeling” before they can pull you over while you are driving your car. However, even if a police officer can point to a reason for stopping, oftentimes there may be insufficient evidence to support his/her reason. As a result, courts will consider this to be an illegal traffic stop & your case quickly takes on a different light.
Illegal Traffic Stops Resulting in Drug Charges
If you’re reading this, you may be facing drug charges arising out of a traffic stop. You’re wondering if you were the victim of an illegal traffic stop and whether or not the search of your was in fact legal. These are good questions and we will do our best to explain this common yet complication situation.
Does This Sound Familiar?
You left a friend’s house & are driving home one night. You’re taking the same route you’ve driven countless times. You obey the speed limit, obey all traffic signals, and use your blinkers appropriately.
Next thing you know, a patrol car is behind you & lights you up. You hear the siren and pull over. The police officer approaches your car, asks for your credentials, and tells you that your car smells like weed. He tells you to step out of your car & proceeds to search it. He finds a blunt in your middle console & arrests you for marijuana possession.
You soon learn that in New Jersey, police officers only need probable cause to search your car. This means that they don’t need a warrant or your consent to search as long as they have “probable cause” to believe that a crime has been committed or that a crime is afoot. (State v Witt 223 NJ 409)
So what’s left to do? If New Jersey law says that the cop can search your car and he searches and finds drugs, then how do you win your drug charges case?
The answer lies in starting at the beginning. Let’s go back to the very beginning: the illegal traffic stop.
Legal Versus Illegal Traffic Stops
Illegal Traffic Stops Start at the beginning
A police officer needs a valid reason to initiate a traffic stop. Absent a reason, it becomes an illegal traffic stops. New Jersey cases have included situations where a police officer provides a reason for the stop in his report, but the dashcam footage proves otherwise.
In State v Atwood, the police officer pulled a driver over to the side of the road claiming that the front driver’s side headlight was out. The officer proceeded to search the car and discovered marijuana & CDS. Defendant Atwood was facing felony drug charges which included a mandatory minimum prison sentence.
The defense lawyer insisted that the dashcam footage did not support the police officer’s claim. The judge ordered a hearing & the prosecutor was unable to go forward. In this case, the drug charges were dismissed based on the illegal traffic stop.
Illegal traffic stops can take many forms. Everything depends on the facts & circumstances relevant to your case. However, it is important to understand that not every traffic stop is legal. A police officer cannot pull you over for a “bogus” reason & proceed to search your car. This is why every drug case must be examined from the very beginning to determine whether the case involves an illegal traffic stop.
For more information, you should read “How To Get Drug Charges Dismissed“.
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Mr. Peyrouton is from Ridgewood & handles all types of criminal matters in New Jersey The New Jersey Law Journal recently published one of his articles on the subject of criminal law.
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