Unlawful Police Stops

Law enforcement officers are given the responsibility of enforcing law and order. However, this doesn’t mean that in the many arrests they make, all of them are genuine. Some of the arrests are unjustifiable, especially those involving drunk driving. Before an officer stops you and detains you for drunk driving, he or she must have reasonable suspicion of violation of the law before they can make a traffic stop. An officer cannot just stop you for no apparent reason because the evidence collected in an unlawful traffic stop is inadmissible in court. If you are in San Fernando Valley & Los Angeles, CA, and have been arrested and charged with drunk driving and you suspect unlawful police stops, The Law Offices of Ross Howell Sobel is available for guidance. We will strive to ensure your rights are protected as we fight the DUI charges.

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Reasonable Suspicion

California applies the standard of reasonable suspicion on traffic stops. It means that before an officer stops you, he or she must have facts that there has been unlawful conduct or a traffic violation. The police officer doesn't need to have suspected you are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Any other traffic violation is enough to initiate the traffic stop. There are many reasons an officer can have reasonable suspicion that you, as a motorist, have violated traffic laws.

Common Reasons for DUI Stops

Certain behaviors can give a law enforcement officer a reason to conduct a vehicle stop. Below are some of the common reasons for traffic stops:

Weaving within and Across the Lane

If a police officer observes you weaving within your lane for a long-distance, he or she will have articulable suspicion to believe that you are driving under the influence. But if the weaving occurred just once within a short distance, that isn’t enough to give the officer an articulable suspicion to make the stop. Also, if you weaved out of your lane once or twice, a reasonable attorney can still argue that weaving out of the pathway is not a traffic violation, which denies the arresting officer articulable suspicion for the traffic stop.

A law enforcement officer might also detain you for weaving across the lanes multiple times. This is a justifiable reason for a stop, but a reasonable attorney can always argue that weaving or swerving across lanes doesn’t warrant a traffic stop.

Driving Too Slowly

Driving at a reduced speed can give an officer articulable suspicion that you are under the influence or in violation of traffic laws. It happens mostly in intersections where there are traffic lights. If you failed to respond to the traffic light change, an officer has a reason to stop you based on safety hazards. However, what gives the officer reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop is the duration you waited after the traffic light change before driving. If you waited for too long, then the officer has facts to suspect you are violating the law. But if you just waited for a few seconds, then an excellent DUI attorney can argue that the stop wasn’t appropriate.

When driving at a speed below the speed limit on a highway, an officer of the law has reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop. Operating a motor vehicle at a reduced speed doesn’t always give officers a reasonable suspicion for a stop, especially in highways where the speed limit is not indicated.

Car Equipment Violation

In many cases, police officers have a justifiable reason to conduct a traffic stop where there is an equipment violation. For instance, if you are driving without license plate lights, a law enforcement officer has an articulate suspicion for a traffic stop. The reason being the CVC regulations prohibit drivers from driving with license plates that are not clearly visible. Remember that even if an officer claims they stopped you because of equipment violation, having an experienced attorney can help show that the stop was inappropriate as long as he or she provides facts based on the circumstances of the traffic stop to prove so.

Excessive Breaking

If you break excessively, the tires are most likely going to squeal. In case an officer hears the squealing of the tires, he or she has reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop. Even if the officer tries to justify the stop using this reason, with an excellent DUI attorney, you can still argue that the traffic stop was inappropriate and have the evidence collected dismissed.

The above reasons warrant traffic stops. However, the standard of reasonable suspicion is just a guidepost for evaluating whether a stop is lawful or not. Both your DUI attorney and the arresting officer have a duty to prove to show what is reasonable suspicion for a traffic violation. In most cases, your DUI attorney has the upper hand in determination of the legality of a traffic stop because he or she has more time in the field to investigate the case than the officer.

Police officers often rely on facts at hand to make quick decisions, which might result in the misapplication of facts. It means an officer might be convinced that particular behavior by a motorist warrants a stop, whereas it doesn’t. It is up to your DUI lawyer to acknowledge the efforts of the arresting officer but still tell the court that it is essential for the law to be followed where the officer didn’t follow, which therefore makes the stop unlawful.

Reasonable Suspicion Vs. Probable Cause

After a valid DUI stop, an officer needs probable cause or a standard at which a reasonable person would believe the law has been violated to continue holding you. Many people confuse reasonable suspicion and probable cause. Reasonable suspicion is what enables law enforcers to stop and detain you for a short period. But for them to continue holding you for further investigation and make an arrest, they must have probable cause or evidence to justify you committed a traffic violation. The two standards differ in that probable cause a police officer needs enough proof that your conduct was unlawful and violated traffic regulations. On the other hand, reasonable suspicion requires the officer to have some indications or reasons to prove you as a motorist broke traffic laws.

Pretext Stops

The U.S. Supreme Court has approved pretext stops. These stops occur where a police officer has reasonable suspicion to stop a motorist, but he or she has an improper or different motivation for the traffic stop. In case a police officer believes that you are involved in drug trafficking, he or she can use a minor traffic violation like swerving to stop you and conduct a search for narcotics in the vehicle.

Exceptions for Reasonable Suspicion 

It is impossible to use unlawful DUI stop as a defense if the stop was made in a sobriety checkpoint. As long as the DUI checkpoint adheres to the set standards, the stop is lawful. If you are stopped at a roadblock where police are searching for a criminal or at an immigration checkpoint, the stop is appropriate.

Note that if a stop is unlawful, any evidence gathered after an arrest can be challenged since the search will be deemed illegal.

DUI Checkpoints and Unlawful DUI Stops

As said above, police don’t need reasonable suspicion to stop you at a DUI checkpoint. However, if an arrest at a sobriety checkpoint resulted in an arrest and later charges, a Ross Howell Sobel DUI attorney can help prove that the stop was still unlawful. He or she can do this by establishing to the court that the sobriety checkpoints didn’t meet all the legal requirements. Some of the factors that determine the legality of a sobriety checkpoint include:

  • Motorists must be stopped on an impartial basis
  • The checkpoint supervisor must make all the constitutional decisions
  • The checkpoint must be adequately identified
  • There must be an advance notice to the public about the checkpoint
  • Drivers should be detained for the shortest time possible
  • The checkpoint must have safety precautions

If any of these factors were not observed in the sobriety checkpoint where you were stopped, it would be right to argue that the stop was unlawful. It means all the evidence that had led to arrest and DUI charges after the stop will be dropped. You are therefore going to be acquitted of the charges or face a lesser sentence.

Find a DUI Defense Attorney Near Me

In case you or a close friend has been arrested and charged with drunk driving in San Fernando Valley & Los Angeles, CA, and you believe the charges were due to unlawful police stops, don’t hesitate to reach out to The Law Offices of Ross Howell Sobel. Our attorneys will investigate the arrest to show the court the truth about the police stop. If an arrest was made at a sobriety checkpoint, we would invest resources in finding out if the checkpoint was legal and whether it adhered to all constitutional requirements. If it violated any of the legal requirements, we would use that as your defense to show the court the initial police stop was unlawful. Contact us today at 818-582-2350 for a zero-obligation consultation.

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