Can Police Use a Traffic Stop as an Excuse to Search My Car?

By Bo Kalabus;
24-hour Jail Release: 214-402-4364

If the police see you speeding, swerving, or committing any other traffic offense, the officer has reasonable suspicion to pull you over, write you a ticket and send you on you way. The officer can also, check your driver’s license, check to see if you have auto insurance, and run your license to see if you have any outstanding warrants.

An investigative detention (like a traffic stop) must be temporary and last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop. Similarly, the investigative methods employed should be the least intrusive means reasonably available to verify or dispel the officer’s suspicion in a short period of time. It’s the state’s burden to demonstrate that the seizure it seeks to justify on the basis of a reasonable suspicion was sufficiently limited in scope and duration to satisfy the conditions of an investigative seizure. See Florida v. Royer, U.S. 491 (1983).

Where this gets interesting is if the officer for example, sees your vehicle swerving at night and pulls you over. The officer gets to the car window and starts talking to you and he smells alcohol, sees you have bloodshot eyes, which he considers clues of intoxication. Now at this point the officer may have developed additional reasonable suspicion to get you out of the vehicle to perform field sobriety tests in addition to the stop for swerving. Another scenario might be if you are pulled over for speeding. As the officer approaches the vehicle, he sees a bag of marijuana on the seat next to you and now the officer has probable cause to arrest you for possession of marijuana and can search your vehicle.

Reasonable suspicion exists when, based on the totality of the circumstances, the officer has specific, articulable facts that, when combined with rational inferences from those facts, would lead him to reasonably conclude that a particular person is, has been, or soon will be engaged in criminal activity.  This is an objective standard that disregards any subjective intent of the officer making the stop and looks solely to whether there exists an objective basis for the stop.  The facts relied upon to support a conclusion of reasonable suspicion must amount to something more than a general suspicion or hunch.

Since there is no bright line rule on the when the officer develops reasonable suspicion, it’s an area where a defense to a criminal case can be mounted especially if the officer can not back up his reasonable suspicion with articulable facts or inferences to support his continued detention of you on the roadside. You should consult a Dallas or Collin county criminal lawyer to discuss your case if you are facing charges.

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