If you drive in the hustle and bustle of South Florida, you’re almost guaranteed to be pulled over by police at least once in your lifetime. A traffic stop could happen when you least expect it or when you’re least inclined to oblige. Whether you’re dropping your kids off at swim practice or running late to an important meeting, you run the risk of a stop if an on-duty policeman observes a violation.
Some people might panic when they see the red and blue lights in their rear view mirror. When anticipating an interaction with a law enforcement officer, it’s important to remain calm and understand how the law works. Police officers must comply with certain laws and have limited rights when interacting with the public. As a driver, you also have rights that protect you when police stop you.
The Rights of Police Officers when Engaging the Public
Law enforcement officers have a duty to “protect and serve” their public. Part of this involves keeping dangerous motorists off the road. An officer who witnesses a traffic infraction may conduct a stop because their observation of the infraction establishes a valid reason for interfering with the driver. This reason is called “probable cause” and can be any observation of a driver breaking the rules of the road, such as speeding, running a red light, or traveling with a broken tail light.
On some days, it may seem like the police are out in full force ready to stop drivers for any reason. Seeing more officers than usual on your way to work can be intimidating and might even feel like a deliberate tactic to scare you into driving as safely as possible. It’s important to know that, while some drivers might get caught in a speed trap, police officers must have a reason for stopping a vehicle before they do so. If you’re doing nothing wrong, they cannot pull you over just because they feel like it.
A Traffic Stop is a Detention
The reason officers can’t pull people over on a whim is because a police stop is considered a form of detention. Even if an officer never brings out the handcuffs, while you’re in police custody, you cannot leave at will.
The only time a police officer might stop a driver who committed no traffic infraction is when the driver or the vehicle matches the description of a suspect. Thus, police officers have limited authority when enforcing traffic laws.
Know Your Rights When You’re Pulled Over in West Palm Beach
When police pull you over to give you a ticket, you have the right to avoid giving them evidence they can use against you. You can remain in your car, refuse a search, and keep quiet except when answering basic questions intended to prove your identity. You’re also permitted to record interactions with on-duty police officers in Florida.
Do Police Always Need a Warrant to Search My Car?
There are times when a police officer might try to search your car during a traffic stop. It’s important to know that in general, police officers may not use the evidence they obtained from an illegal traffic stop against you.
An illegal traffic stop is any stop in which the officer lacked probable cause. So, if an officer pulls you over on a gut feeling and proceeds to discover a bag of drugs on your passenger’s seat, he or she might try to use the bag as a justification for the stop; however, the law usually holds that such evidence is not admissible in court.
An officer who stops you for a regular traffic violation does not have the right to search your car without a search warrant. There are just five situations in which the officer may legally search your car with no warrant present:
- You provide consent for the officer to search your vehicle
- Evidence of a crime is in “plain view.” This means that, if the officer approaches your vehicle and spots a bag of marijuana out in the open, the illegal substance is considered to be in plain view. Once the officer finds the drug, they can search the rest of your car.
- Your car can be searched after you’ve been lawfully arrested.
- Your car can be searched when the officer has probable cause to suspect you’ve been involved in a crime. If there’s blood in your car and you look beaten up, you might provide the officer with reasonable suspicion of an offense.
- Officers who believe that a suspect is about to destroy vital evidence may break the rules to preserve the evidence. Examples of this scenario usually take place in the home. A typical scenario may involve an officer about to search a home for drugs who hears a toilet flush. The officer can reasonably assume the evidence is being disposed of, allowing him to enter the home with or without a warrant.
Fight Illegal Traffic Stops and Illegally-Obtained Evidence
The men and women in uniform who protect our community must abide by strict rules and regulations to ensure their safety and that of the public they serve. If you believe that you were wrongfully stopped and searched and this led to a traffic charge that’s hurting your driving record, contact The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel.
At our firm, our goal is to put all our resources to work fighting for your rights so you can obtain the best possible result. Attorney Brian Gabriel has practiced law for more than 25 years in and throughout Palm Beach County. He has obtained many successful decisions and can help you overcome this challenging period. As a member of the National Trial Lawyers’ Top 100 Trial Lawyers, he can bring valuable experience to your case. Call (561) 622-5575 to see how he can help you find relief or complete our contact form.