The Police Stopped Me for No Reason, Can They Get Away with That?

The Fleming Firm

Many DUI cases are either reduced to a lesser charge very early on in the process because key evidence in the state’s case is suppressed, or the case is dismissed altogether because the police had no reason to stop the defendant in the first place. There are three key terms all drivers should take away from this blogpost:

  • Probable Cause
  • Articulable Reasonable Suspicion
  • Totality of Circumstances

If you’re ever stopped by a police officer and charged with a DUI or other traffic related offense, knowing and understanding these legal terms, along with the facts that your attorney will gather, can greatly assist him/her in defending your case. First of all, let’s talk about what information the police actually have to have before they can stop your vehicle and question and investigate you, or arrest you. We’ll start with a very easy scenario.

If an officer actually witnesses you committing a traffic violation, or any crime for that matter, there’s no question that she can stop you, and you may or may not be arrested depending on the violation or crime committed.

The next scenario is also fairly simple. Let’s say that someone called the police, identified themselves and reported that they witnessed you committing a violation or crime. Same as in the first scenario; the police have every right to stop and arrest you on suspicion of committing that offence even though she (the officer) didn’t witness the act herself. These first two scenarios fall under the legal doctrine of “Probable Cause”, which means that there are facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge, and she has reasonably trustworthy information which leads her to believe that a crime is being or has been committed.

The legal concept of “Articulable Reasonable Suspicion” empowers the police to stop you and conduct sort of a preliminary investigation to determine your identity and whether or not a crime has been committed. The key word here is “reasonable”, in other words, the officer cannot stop and investigate a citizen based on a “gut feeling” that he has, that would constitute an illegal seizure under the Constitution, but must be based on suspicion that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would have and that can be articulated as to the exact reason(s) why she is suspicious. Let’s change a few of the facts in the second fact pattern above to illustrate articulable reasonable suspicion.

Instead of identifying himself, the caller above is anonymous, and he did not say he witnessed you committing a violation or crime, but instead heard it from a third party that you committed an offense. This information does not rise to the level of “probable cause” which is the threshold that must be met for the police to arrest you without a warrant. However, there are enough facts that the police are aware of that empowers them to stop and question you to determine if in fact you may have committed an offense, additionally any reasonable officer in the same circumstances could articulate the reasons why he is suspicious. In fact, the police would not be doing their job if they ignored such a report.

In many cases, during these brief investigatory stops, defendants will incriminate themselves with statements or acts which will provide police the probable cause they need to go ahead and make an arrest. The key word here is “brief.” Even during an investigatory stop, the police are not allowed to hold you indefinitely. No court has determined with any specificity just how long an investigatory stop should last. That is best determined on a case by case basis. For example, if the police have a reasonable suspicion to stop and investigate a motorist one would expect the officer to confirm the driver’s license and vehicle registration are in order and run a check to confirm there are no warrants on the individual.

If everything checks out, the officer must then let the individual go. To continue to detain her would be tantamount to an unlawful seizure and thus a 4th Amendment violation.

The final legal concept to be aware of is “totality of the circumstances.” In determining whether an officer had a reasonable suspicion to make an investigatory stop, the court will consider the totality of the circumstances.

Contrary to the objectivity inherent in the reasonable suspicion standard, the totality of circumstances standard allows for some subjectivity on the part of the officer.

“Basically, this standard allows the officer to draw on her own experiences and specialized training to make inferences from and deductions about the cumulative information available to her that might elude an untrained person.’…” Howard v. State, 265 Ga. App. 835, 595 S.E.2d 660 (Ga. App. 2004)

These legal concepts are very important terms for any driver to have an elementary knowledge of, particularly if you’ve been arrested on a DUI or any criminal charge. Knowledge of these concepts can be invaluable as you assist your attorney in preparing your defense.

If you’ve been arrested and charged with DUI or any other criminal offense contact Attorney Preston Fleming at The Fleming Firm to schedule a FREE CONSULTATION.

He can be reached at (770)727-0599 or [email protected]. You can also simply complete the contact form on this website and submit it. Someone from our firm will reach out to you within 24 hours.

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