Can the police stop any driver for any reason?

Absolutely Not!

Every person has a right under both the United States and Oklahoma constitutions to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Alba, 2015 OK CR 2, ¶ 5, 341 P.3d at 92 (citing U.S. Const. amend. IV; Okla. Const. art. 2, § 30).   A traffic stop is a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. McGaughey v. State, 2001 OK CR 33, ¶ 24, 37 P.3d 130, 136. The scope and duration of such a seizure must be related to the stop and must last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the stop’s purpose. Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 500, 103 S.Ct. 1319, 1325, 75 L. Ed. 2d 229 (1983); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 1879, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889 (1968); McGaughey, 2001 OK CR 33, ¶¶ 24 and 27, 37 P.3d at 136-37. If the length of the investigative detention goes beyond the time necessary to reasonably effectuate the reason for the stop, the Fourth Amendment requires reasonable suspicion that the person stopped has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime.

Thus, for the police office to legally stop a vehicle he must have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation had occurred. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 809-10, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 1772, 135 L. Ed. 2d 89 (1996); Dufries v. State, 2006 OK CR 13, ¶ 8, 133 P.3d 887, 889. This is so regardless of the officer’s subjective motivation for the stop. Id., 2006 OK CR 13, ¶ 9, 133 P.3d at 889 (“Subjective intentions play no role in the ordinary probable-cause Fourth Amendment analysis.”).

There are two significant remedies available to a driver who has been unlawfully pulled over: (1) any evidence of criminality (most commonly drugs or evidence of intoxication such as a breath test) discovered as a result of the unlawful stop will be excluded at trial; and, (2) the driver may seek damages in civil court for violations of his/her constitutional rights.  

The law of search and seizure is complex and contains many many different laws, court rulings, and exceptions.  If you have been arrested and charged with a crime as the result of a traffic stop read more about criminal law here, or click here to contact us, or click here to learn more about our legal team.

Dustin Compton
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