Part 3: Pretextual Stops by Police are Permissible
I can’t tell you how many times my clients have explained in painstaking detail why they believe the police didn’t pull them over because of a traffic infraction, but rather, because of their race, gender, ethnicity, or something else (i.e. flashy car). In the law, these are referred to as “pretextual” justifications. I usually get the same expression from those clients when I explain that, sadly, even when their suspicions are true (that is, the police officer had a pretextual reason for the stop), so long as a that officer also had either reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that you committed a traffic infraction while driving, the stop was lawful.
In the mid-1990s, in a case called Whren v. United States, our nation’s highest court held (unanimously!) that any traffic infraction forms a sufficient basis for the driver to be temporarily detained, even if the subjective reason for the officer wanting to stop you was pretextual. 517 U.S. 806. In Whren, police were patrolling what they thought was a “high drug area” when they saw a car stopped, lawfully at a stop sign, for an unusually long time. Because the officers waited to pull over the driver until he began driving and turned without a signal (a traffic infraction) and sped off at an unknown but seemingly “unreasonably” speed, the Supreme Court, despite argument that the officers actually wanted to stop him simply because of the area he was in, validated the traffic stop.
At last I checked, Florida has over 120,000 miles of public roads and dozens of traffic laws. What are the odds that anybody, even the most keen of drivers, can drive any more than a few blocks without doing (or not doing) something that might give a police officer reason to believe a traffic infraction has been committed? Driving with without headlights after sunset; defective brake or tail light; rolling through a stop sign; turning without a signal; or exceeding the speed limit, the list goes on and on.
I mention this only because many clients have shared concerns that, even though I was leaving a sports bar, “I was driving perfectly. He had no reason to pull me over.” Once a police officer has you lawfully detained for a traffic violation, he or she doesn’t have to ignore what they observe. If they think they have also developed reasonable suspicion of DUI, an investigation is looming.
Whether you agree or disagree with the state of the law, it is, in the end, the law. Don’t be willfully ignorant of it; instead, become a more aware driver.
This article was published by Miami DUI Attorney Jordan Redavid, Esq., partner at Redavid Law PLLC. Its contents are not to be considered legal advice. If you or a loved one are looking for one of the best criminal lawyer in Miami, call Jordan Redavid at any time. 305-938-9939.