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Officers need probable cause or reasonable suspicion during a stop

by | May 24, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

It is common to see law enforcement pulling over a vehicle. This often involves a speeding ticket (or warning) if it takes place on the highway. These tickets can be an expensive annoyance because of the ticket’s fine and perhaps a subsequent rise in insurance rates.

However, once the officer pulls over the vehicle, they may tack on additional and more severe charges. The officer may suspect there are drugs in your car, that you are driving under the influence (DUI) or engaged in illegal activity.

Probable cause vs. reasonable suspicion

The standards for reasonable suspicion must honor the individual’s rights, but there are broader parameters than probable cause. It can be subjective but must still be informed by the facts and circumstances in front of the officer at the time. While the Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches or seizures, probable cause is adequate reason to arrest the suspect, conduct an initial search and seize property. Courts do not issue a search warrant without probable cause.

Probable cause for a stop or further investigation

Most stops are valid, and the common examples of probable cause include:

  • A moving violation like speeding
  • An equipment violation like a broken headlight
  • Erratic driving while going the speed limit
  • Clear evidence of illegal activity, such as the odor of marijuana or slurred speech
  • Driver admitting to illegal activity
  • Driver allowing the officer to search your vehicle
  • Failing a preliminary sobriety test

Officers may overstep boundaries

There are many state and federal laws established to protect the rights of individuals. Officers cannot:

  • Pullover someone for no reason.
  • Conduct lengthy interrogations without an arrest.
  • Use coercive techniques to gather evidence.
  • They cannot follow a “hunch” telling them there is an illegal activity.

Those charged still have rights

Failure to establish probable cause will likely lead to dropping the case. So criminal defense attorneys will often focus on probable cause and reasonable suspicion when defending their clients.

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