Traffic Stops

A large percentage of criminal investigations arise out of police traffic stops. Many times, the police pull over a vehicle and subsequently begin an intense search of the car and its occupants. Some people have had the horrible experience of being singled out for one of these intrusive violations of our most basic privacy rights. The salient questions are: Do I have to let them search me? Can they search me just because I fit a description? Do I have to answer their questions? Very often, the answer to these concerns is no.

First and foremost, it is important to remember that the police do not have constitutional search rights. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens from all unreasonable police searches. The law clearly indicates that stopping a motor vehicle on a highway and detaining the driver constitutes a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, but the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit all seizures; it prohibits only those that are unreasonable. As with other categories of police action subject to fourth amendment constraints, the reasonableness of a seizure depends on a balance between the public interest and the individual's right to personal security, free from arbitrary interference of law officers.

The Supreme Court places police-citizen confrontations into three categories: (1) consensual - where the police do not need a justification for search (2) brief searches and seizures - where "reasonable suspicion" is required but only a limited search is allowed and (3) Full highly intrusive, full-scale arrests, which must be based on probable cause. In order to determine whether the police have overstepped your rights against illegal searches courts must examine the totality of the circumstances.

Contact a Richmond criminal defense attorney if you need experienced legal assistance.

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