What Makes a Traffic Stop Unlawful

When it comes to traffic stops, it’s not uncommon to hear stories of people saying “they just pulled me over for no reason,” but the truth is that police officers always have to have a valid reason for the traffic stop. In fact, there have been many times where individuals have had convictions overthrown because the police officer should not have initiated contact in the first place.

What exactly are these valid reasons for initiating contact?

traffic-stopWell, that’s not the easiest question to answer, since some of the reasons themselves are rather vague, and sometimes the courts will simply take the police officer’s word for it unless you push back for proof, but here are some of the most common reasons for stops:

  • Speeding or driving too slow – It’s easy to see how this can be a bit of a catch-22 for motorists
  • Weaving, swerving, or drifting – Again, this one can be problematic since many times drivers will look in the rearview mirror and become nervous upon seeing a police vehicle right behind them
  • Failure to maintain a single lane – Changing lanes without a turn signal can put one in jeopardy of this
  • Careless/reckless driving – This is sort of a catch-all term that basically means the police officer thought you were driving aggressively
  • Running a stop sign or red light – There are some hard-and-fast rules about what exactly constitutes a lawful stop at a stop sign, and what exactly constitutes hitting a yellow light vs running the red, but it is still a judgment call on behalf of the officer as to whether they pull you over for it, and everyone makes mistakes
  • Almost striking a curb or median – It can be a split moment of inattention that can cause one to drift close to medians/curbs, but it can be cause for a traffic stop
  • Wide turns – The law states that motorists must turn into the first unoccupied through-traffic lane available, but it is more common to see people turn into the lane they want to be in instead

There are many more examples, but even with just those few examples up there, it should be fairly easy to see how common, everyday driving habits can be enough letter-of-the-law reason for a police officer to initiate a traffic stop.

Luckily, even with proof, police officers are constantly having to make judgment calls, and they don’t always get it exactly right. If you and your attorney are able to argue that the officer subjectively over-stepped their bounds, it can be cause for the entire traffic case to be thrown out.

If you think you were wrongfully stopped, make sure you take action as soon as possible.



photo by versageek on Wikimedia Commons