What is police misconduct during a traffic stop?

| Jun 25, 2021 | Criminal defense

Police stops are a part of everyday life here in Georgia. Typically, the officer will follow the protocols that govern all behavior regarding interactions with the public. There are specific rules they must follow during a traffic stop, but for whatever reason, they might veer from policy or overstep those boundaries.

A typical traffic stop will involve a ticket for a moving violation or a warning. This is a niusance because of the ticket’s cost and can lead to an increase in insurance rates. Things can go from bad to worse, however, if the officer then adds additional charges for drug possession, trafficking or driving under the influence. Most stops are legal, but police misconduct or a wrongful stop can lead to the officer illegally collecting evidence.

Probable cause is key

Contrary to many people’s popular belief, the police must have a reason (reasonable suspicion) for pulling someone over. Probable cause prevents officers from abusing their power. Examples of probable cause include:

  • A moving violation or a broken taillight qualify
  • Erratic driving could mean impairment
  • Clear evidence of illegal activity, such as the smell of marijuana or alcohol on a driver’s breath
  • Admitting to illegal behavior

What they cannot do

The circumstances of each case are unique, but some common examples of illegal search and seizure include:

  • They cannot hold a driver for an overly long period while seeking evidence to justify further charges.
  • They cannot follow up a baseless “hunch” that tells them that the driver committed crimes.
  • Unless given permission, they cannot search a vehicle without first arresting the driver for a violation. Once making the arrest, the officer can search the vehicle and take an inventory of contents.

Officers can be held accountable

Drivers have rights during a stop. They are not required to answer any questions posed by the officer. They should ask the officer why they stopped the driver, or why the officer is investigating further, rather than issuing a ticket. Most importantly — if the officer illegally seized evidence, it should be inadmissible in court.