By Christopher Adkins
If the police want to stop a vehicle, most times they can find a reason. This may require them following you for a while, but they usually can find a reason. Whether this reason constitutes reasonable suspicion to justify the stop is another matter. To legally initiate a traffic stop, the police must have at least reasonable suspicion. Some people refer to this as reasonable, articulable suspicion or just simply “RS.” While the police may have probable cause to stop you, which is a higher standard than reasonable suspicion, all that is required to justify the stop is reasonable suspicion. If the police lack reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop, any evidence seized or arrest made pursuant to the stop is unconstitutional.
License Plate / Tag
When a police officer is behind you in traffic, or even in the close vicinity of your vehicle, it is very possible that they are running your tag. Some police vehicles are even equipped with devices that check your plates automatically. It is kind of like fishing for a police officer: you run enough plates and eventually you are going to get a bite. North Carolina courts have ruled that because license plates are open to public view, a driver has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his plate, and thus a police officer may run your plate without reason. When the officer runs your plate, he enters it into the computer in his vehicle, which determines whether the license plate is current, matches the vehicle, and provides information concerning vehicle inspection. If anything is wrong with the vehicle, the officer is justified in conducting a traffic stop to further investigate. Based on the investigation, the officer may issue a citation or develop probable cause for an arrest.
Running a license tag will also give a police officer information on the registered owner of the vehicle. The officer is made aware of the license status of the registered owner and whether that person has any outstanding warrants or orders for arrest. By comparing the description of the registered owner provided by DMV to the description of the person driving the vehicle, the officer is justified in making a traffic stop. Upon investigation, if the driver is determined to be the registered owner with a defective drivers license or warrant, the officer may issue a citation or make an arrest.
If a police officer gets behind you and is looking for a reason to initiate a traffic stop, he will probably follow you for a while to see if you violate a traffic law. The officer is usually waiting for you to commit a common traffic violation such as changing lanes without signaling (if you aren't clear to do so), speeding (usually more than 5mph above the posted speed limit), or failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. According to the United States Supreme Court, even if the officer wants to make a stop based on a pre-textual basis, as long as the officer has reasonable suspicion to make the stop, the stop is valid. In other words, if an officer thinks you are driving while impaired and the true reason for his stop is to investigate the DWI, as long as he has some reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop, the stop will be upheld as valid.
The big items an officer looks for here are window tint, improper display of tags and license plate stickers, and broken headlights or taillights. An officer may also look for such things as excessively loud mufflers or worn tires. If the officer wants to stop you, he will look hard to find a reason and a defect in your vehicle.
If a police officer wants to make a traffic stop on a vehicle, it is usually pretty easy for them to find a reason. The officer may have to follow you for a while, but the chances are that you won't be able to drive perfect forever. A lot of courts frown upon officers who follow citizens around looking for a reason to stop them. There is something un-American about following citizens around, interfering with their freedom of movement, and waiting for them to commit a traffic violation. The best thing you can do is ensure that your license, license plate, and vehicle are all valid, updated, and in good order before you drive. When an officer gets behind you and appears to be looking for a reason to initiate a traffic stop, do your best to obey all traffic laws and not to speed. You may want to pull over, park, and walk in a business if the officer appears to be obstructing your freedom of movement and making you nervous. Most police officers are good people and are looking out for your best interests. They're still quick to write you a citation and / or arrest you if they believe you've violated the law. Take precautions to protect yourself!
If you need to speak with a criminal defense attorney, please contact Adkins Law for a free criminal defense consultation. Adkins Law has locations in Huntersville and Ballantyne for your convenience.