Understanding the Basis for a Traffic Stop
One of the most common questions we see in cases involving traffic stops is, “Why did I get pulled over?” You may think, “it’s because I had a nice car,” or “it’s because of the area of town I was in.” Well, that is certainly possible, but if that is the only reason or reasons, that may be an illegal traffic stop.
When does an officer have a basis to pull someone over? In legal terms, the test is this: “is there reasonable suspicion based upon specific and articulable facts to believe a crime has been or is being committed?” In everyday terms, this means: “can the officer specifically explain why it is believed the driver (or occupant) of the vehicle has committed or is committing a crime?” Not a hunch or guess. Rather, explain specifically.
In many cases, an entire defense may hinge on the basis of a traffic stop. For example, was there a light law violation; failure to use a blinker; was there a brake light out; was there a headlight out; was the vehicle swerving; and, the list goes on and on.
So, to clarify, you may be in a nice car. You may be in the “wrong” area. These facts alone should not be the only bases to make a traffic stop. There must be more. There must be a specific explanation as to why the officer believes a crime has been or is being committed.
Tommy Santel is a co-founding partner of Parkerson Santel PLLC. Tommy is a former government prosecutor. He is a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 General Civil Mediator. Tommy’s practice areas include criminal defense and civil litigation.
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