Your Rights in a Traffic Stop

If you are like most people, when you see a police officer on the road, you get a little nervous. Maybe you just got your new proof of insurance in the mail and forgot to put it in your car. Maybe you didn’t come to a complete stop at the light or stop sign. What are your rights with respect to a traffic stop? Can police subject you and your vehicle to a full search any time they pull you over?

The Requirement of Probable Cause

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that random traffic stops are not permitted under the 4th Amendment, ruling that law enforcement officers must have probable cause to pull a motorist over. Typically, this requires that the police officer observe a violation of traffic laws or of some other criminal code. However, if the police officer reasonably believes that the driver or a passenger meets the description of a suspect in a crime, or that the vehicle matches one reported at the scene of a crime, the officer may pull the vehicle over. Roadblocks where all vehicles are searched are not considered to be a violation of the 4th Amendment.

The Extent of a Search Pursuant to a Traffic Stop

An exception to the requirement that police officers have a valid warrant has existed for motor vehicles since 1925. The exception allows a warrantless search if a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of a crime. This exception was limited somewhat in a recent Supreme Court opinion that held that, if a driver is pulled over for a traffic violation, is detained in the police car and poses no threat, the vehicle cannot be searched, absent other probable cause indicating the presence of contraband or evidence of a crime.

Contact Attorney Wayne Punshon

My name is Wayne Punshon. I have more than 32 years of legal experience, including 22 years as a Pennsylvania prosecutor. I have an extensive understanding of the criminal laws in Pennsylvania, as well as the rules of criminal procedure. Let me use my considerable knowledge, skill, experience and resources to protect your constitutional rights.

To schedule a free initial consultation, contact me online or call my office at 610-565-8412. I accept credit cards and will meet with you outside of traditional business hours, if necessary.