Search and seizure rights during a traffic stop

On Behalf of | May 19, 2020 | Firm News

From driving with a burnt-out headlight or missing a stop sign to driving over the speed limit, police officers may choose to pull over and cite a motorist for many reasons. Yet, in some cases, officers may additionally suspect that the driver is committing an unrelated drug or firearms offense. Along with 12 other U.S. states, Alabama recognizes the right of acting officers to “stop and identify” motorists suspected of violating the law or intending to do so.

That means that drivers must provide their name, address and an explanation of their actions when stopped by an officer who suspects criminal activity. However, the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution also provides important protections that prevent law enforcement from searching or seizing personal property without reasonable cause.

Officers cannot legally obtain evidence during an unjustified traffic stop

In some situations, a law enforcement officer may pull over a driver who has not actually committed a traffic violation. When there is no such legal justification for stopping a vehicle, a search for illegal drugs or firearms may violate the Fourth Amendment and be inadmissible in court.

Officers can only make a legal search when there is reason

Even if an enforcement officer believes a traffic violation has occurred, he or she must have probable cause that suggests the driver is either committing a crime or planning to commit a crime in order to search the motorist’s person or vehicle.

Officers must provide a Miranda warning

In 1966 the U.S. government mandated that law enforcement officers need to inform any individual under arrest of his or her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and Sixth Amendment right to retain a lawyer. Known as “Miranda rights,” any officer who fails to inform a detainee of these privileges may violate constitutional law and put that potentially innocent individual at risk for an undeserved charge or conviction.