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When Can Police Legally Stop Me?

By: GA DUI Lawyer William C. Head

Stopped For An Equipment Defect That The Officer Observes On Your Vehicle

One valid and common reason a law enforcement officer may stop your vehicle is if he or she observes a missing piece of equipment on your vehicle or sees that a part of your vehicle is defective. Common examples are if your brake lights are burned out, your tires are bald, or one of your headlamps is not working.

However, if a law enforcement officer stops you because your rear view mirror is too small, and there is no law specifying the size of your rear view mirror, then the officer’s pretext for the stop is invalid. If that pretext is based on anything other than a published, existing law, then the stop itself will be declared invalid.

What If I Was Stopped For Breaking a Law That Proves to be Unconstitutional?

In order for you to be guilty of a crime, you have to violate a law that is not unconstitutionally vague. Sometimes, state legislators pass laws that are too vague or ambiguous to be legally enforceable. In such situations, if the law is struck down by your appellate courts, this frees you of all charges, since the law under which you were arrested was not constitutional.

As an example, the Georgia legislature passed a law making it unlawful to drive while you had any marijuana in your system at all. The courts found this unconstitutional because no connection existed between the very low levels of any legally used marijuana and any concerns for driver safety and protecting the public.

In Texas, where a motor vehicle law was written in such a complicated fashion as to not be able to be understood, it was declared unconstitutional. The wording of the statute was “forbidding the operating or driving of motor vehicles on any public highway ‘where the territory contiguous thereto is closely built up, at greater rate of speed than 18 miles per hour,’ was too indefinite and ambiguous as to the places where it is to apply to be operative.” On the other hand, just because “driving under the influence” is defined in two different ways by statute in many states, this does not make this term vague and thus unconstitutional.

If you have been charged under a DUI-DWI statute or ordinance that is later declared unconstitutional or otherwise invalid, or has already been declared unconstitutional at the time of your arrest, your attorney can raise the defense that you had not in fact violated the law, as the law itself was not valid. Although such challenges are rare, top criminal defense attorneys raise such challenges when it may win your DUI-DWI case. Recent aggressive law enforcement activity has increased the chances of unconstitutional acts occurring in the effort to arrest more “drunk drivers.”

Stopped For Having An Expired Temporary Tag

It is certainly a lawful reason for a law enforcement officer to stop you if your drive-out tag or temporary license is no longer valid, or if it is not displayed in a valid manner. However, if the officer made a mistake and the tag was valid, or if the tag was in fact displayed in a valid manner, then in some states, the pretext for the stop was then invalid.

In other states, such a stop would be upheld as being valid. In Florida, appellate decisions exist on both sides of this issue. If the pretext for the stop is invalid, so is the stop. In such an event, the charges may be dismissed at a pre-trial hearing.

Stopped For Driving In An Area With No Occupied Houses

Police officers certainly have a duty to protect the public as a whole. Part of this duty would be to protect areas under construction from thievery. However, just because you are driving on a public road out of one of these areas is not by itself sufficient reasonable suspicion for a law enforcement officer to stop your vehicle, even if it can be one factor out of several to establish articulable suspicion.

If the stop was unlawful, then any other evidence arising from the stop (such as evidence of driving under the influence of alcohol) cannot be held against you.