Riding Dirty-Was that Police Stop an Illegal Search and Seizure?

Man being arrested by police officer

Riding Dirty - Was that police stop an illegal search and seizure?

If you have stumbled upon this article, chances are it was not by mistake. As criminal defense attorneys, we often get asked about illegal search and seizures during a vehicle stop. Most people believe that their stop was unconstitutional, but was it? What are the factors the court will look at to throw the evidence out during a criminal trial?

Did the Police Officer Have Probable Cause?

During a criminal trial in Arkansas, in order for a prosecutor to introduce evidence from a search conducted by police during a traffic stop, the prosecutor must establish one of two things: 1) that the officer who conducted the stop had reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct justifying the stop; or 2) that the driver of the vehicle gave consent to the search. Keep in mind that if you consent, any evidence found can be used against you!

What creates reasonable suspicion? 

In Arkansas, Reasonable Suspicion is defined as “a suspicion based on facts or circumstances which of themselves do not give rise to the probable cause requisite to justify a lawful arrest, but which give rise to more than a bare suspicion; that is, a suspicion that is reasonable as opposed to an imaginary or purely conjectural suspicion” [Ark. R. Crim. P. 2.1]. Numerous circumstances can lead to “reasonable suspicion” for an officer to stop your car. Traffic violations such as speeding, broken taillights, failure to use turn signal, and expired tags, among many other minor traffic violations, are enough reason for a police officer to stop your vehicle. However, an officer may not target an individual. Targeting individuals includes, but is not limited to, pulling a vehicle over because of the driver’s race or stopping a vehicle if an officer sees it leaving a bar. However, please keep in mind “A police officer is justified in making a traffic stop if the officer has probable cause to believe that the vehicle has violated a traffic law. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996).

How Long Can an Officer Detain Your Vehicle During a Routine Traffic Stop?

A police officer may detain you while completing certain routine tasks. For example, as part of a valid traffic stop, a police officer may detain you while the officer completes certain routine tasks, such as computerized checks of the vehicle’s registration and the driver’s license and criminal history, and the writing up of a citation or warning. The officer is allowed to ask routine questions such as your destination, the purpose of your trip, or if the officer can search the vehicle. Always keep in mind that the officer is allowed to act on whatever information you volunteer to them. However, continued detention of a person or vehicle beyond a reasonable time to complete these routine tasks is illegal by the officer. Any evidence the prosecutor offers to introduce from a search considered illegal should be suppressed in a criminal trial.

May the Fourth Be with You

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the unreasonable search and seizure of persons or their belongings. If an officer violates the rules stated above while searching your car, then the officer will have conducted the search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Any evidence gathered in an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment can be suppressed at your criminal trial. The court will not suppress the evidence on its own. You will need an experienced criminal defense attorney to file a “Motion to Suppress.” Your attorney will argue many of the points made above and why this search violates your Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. We highly suggest hiring an experienced Arkansas criminal defense attorney if you have been charged with a criminal offense such as drug possession, marijuana possession, possession with intent to deliver and so on.

Eason Law can Help

At Eason Law, we have helped many people navigate criminal charges. Whether it be a simple traffic violation, marijuana possession, or felony drug charges, we handle it all. If you need an experienced legal team to help you navigate your criminal law matters, call us today and let us help you through the process.

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Jonesboro Criminal Defense & Family Law

Serving Northeast Arkansas as well as numerous other counties in Arkansas, Eason Law has built a reputation for providing excellent legal services to our clients in a courteous and professional manner. Every client has a unique need when consulting with an attorney. We work together with each individual client and tailor our representation to meet the needs and goals of each client.