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What Are Valid Reasons For A Traffic Stop?

Published: Dec 01, 2016 in Criminal Defense

Traffic stops are considered temporary detentions under the law, which implicates Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. In order for law enforcement officers to pull someone over, they must have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or a traffic violation. If an officer lacks a reasonable suspicion to pull you over, any evidence obtained as the result of the traffic stop will be inadmissible against you in a criminal trial.

What is Reasonable Suspicion?

Reasonable suspicion must be based on articulable facts, which means more than a mere hunch that a crime is occurring. Even if an officer has a reasonable suspicion the duration of the traffic stop cannot be indefinite. The general rule is that a traffic stop must be temporary or last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the original purpose of the detention to be considered reasonable.

Valid Reasons for a Traffic Stop

One of the most common reasons for a traffic stop is when a police officer personally observes someone committing a traffic violation. No matter how insignificant the violation, it will justify a traffic stop. Reasonable suspicion, however, does not require an officer to actually observe a violation of the law.

For example, an officer would be justified in pulling someone over who is exhibiting common signs of drunk driving, such as swerving, even if he or she does not know for sure that the person is intoxicated. Reasonable suspicion may also come from an anonymous tip if he or she provides sufficient facts about what was observed so that the information can be corroborated.

The list below includes some valid reasons for a traffic stop, but it is by no means exhaustive.

  • Speeding
  • Erratic or aggressive driving (e.g. improper lane changes or turns, weaving in and out of traffic, following too closely, or failing to yield the right of way)
  • Running stop signs/red lights
  • Illegal texting or use of cell phone while driving
  • Broken tail light(s)
  • Exhibiting signs of impairment while driving (e.g. driving with headlights off at night, straddling the center lane, drifting in and out of lanes, failure to maintain the proper speed, delayed response to traffic signals, erratic braking or turning, hitting or almost hitting objects along the side of the road, or driving in the wrong direction)
  • Expired vehicle registration
  • Driving well under the speed limit

Through questioning or personal observation during the traffic stop, police officers may develop an additional reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, which can prolong the temporary detention and allow for further investigation. If the officer develops probable cause to believe that you have committed a crime, you may be placed under arrest.

How a Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help

If you have been arrested for a crime that you believe was the result of an illegal traffic stop, you need a skilled criminal defense attorney by your side. Ned Barnett will protect your constitutional rights and work with you to develop the strongest possible defense strategy.

Ned Barnett has more than 30 years of legal experience, as both a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. He uses his extensive knowledge of the Texas criminal justice system to fight for the best possible results for his clients. He understands how stressful the criminal process can be and will work tirelessly to defend your record, reputation, and future.

Call today at (713) 222-6767 for your confidential case consultation.