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Unlawful police stops and your eroding protections under the 4th Amendment.

The 4th Amendment to the United State’s Constitution protects all citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures, that includes one’s home, car and automobile. An officer may however stop a vehicle if they believe they have reasonable articulable suspicion that a crime is being committed, ie. Speeding or Drunk Driving. A traffic stop is generally a “warrantless” stop meaning that the officer must meet the criteria of “reasonable articulable suspicion” before pulling over a motorist an impeding on their 4th Amendment right to be free of police stops.

This is a very significant issue that may have a bearing on your dui or non-dui arrest. A seasoned attorney will be well versed in whether a traffic stop passes Constitutional evaluation or fails and therefore should be thrown out. This is why it remains imperative to retain effective counsel in all cases.

Just this week during trial I was able to secure a Not Guilty on a very significant DUI because of a bad stop. It was raining and my client was driving on the beltway at a speed that was 5 miles per hour less than the speed limit. It was late at night so it was obvious that the officer thought my client was impaired. However outside of the slow speed my client committed no traffic violations. An officer can pull someone over for going to slow but they must prove that the drivers speed impeded traffic or wasn’t reasonable given the road condition. The officer while on the stand during trial said that he pulled my client over for a well being check. He said he wanted to make sure my client was ok. When asked why he pulled him over for that and not a traffic violation the officer said he didn’t think he had enough evidence to pull over for a traffic violation.

The Judge deemed this an unlawful stop therefore any and all evidence after the stop is suppressed including the breath test and my client was found not guilty. This was obviously a great outcome but the laws are changing rapidly and the Supreme Court just dealt a major blow to our 4th Amendment protections.

Earlier this week the Supreme Court published their opinion in Utah v. Strieff, No. 14-1373. In this case the Court opined that evidence that discovered in an illegal stop/arrest may in fact be used in court against the defendant even if the stop is deemed unlawful. On its face this may not seem like a big deal but there are a multitude of negative legal doors that this ruling opens.

Basically if an officer stops someone illegally and without good cause, if/when they find any evidence or contraband such as guns, drugs, illegal prescriptions then as long as the officer doesn’t commit a flagrant violation of the constitution that evidence may indeed be used against the defendant. This allows for fishing by police officers and actually tends to encourage illegal searches and seizures as the evidence may not be suppressed. If police know they do not have enough evidence for a legal stop they can simply elect to pull a driver over with the hope of finding incriminating evidence. Shocking!

This means be smart. Do not drink and drive and give the officer a reason to arrest you. Do not carry anything illegal in your car. Police officers now have more power than they ever have. If you were the victim of a potentially unlawful arrest the skilled and experienced lawyers at Robinson and Associates may be able to help you.