Connecticut Criminal Defense LawyerHigh-speed car chases can be exciting in movies or TV shows, but when they take place in the real world, they are likely to cause serious injuries or deaths. When police officers choose to chase a vehicle, they often put multiple people at risk, including innocent bystanders such as pedestrians and people in other vehicles. While officers may pursue a person for a variety of reasons, often claiming that doing so is necessary to protect public safety, most police chases involve minor traffic violations rather than serious criminal charges

Injuries and Deaths in Police Chases

Determining the actual number of people who have been injured or killed because of police chases is somewhat difficult. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the primary source of data regarding traffic-related deaths. However, reports to the NHTSA by police departments do not always state that deaths occurred in a police chase, and records may not indicate whether a person who was killed was a participant in a chase or an innocent bystander. Determining the number of people injured is even more difficult since the NHTSA only tracks fatal accidents.

By analyzing data from the past several decades, researchers have estimated that an average of 323 people are killed each year in police chases, and innocent bystanders account for 27 percent of these deaths. While the actual number of injuries suffered in police chases is unknown, it is estimated that as many as 7,400 people per year are injured. Minorities are disproportionately affected, with Black people being three times more likely to be killed in police chases as either suspects or bystanders.

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Hartford criminal defense lawyerThe actions of police officers in criminal cases have come under scrutiny in recent years. In many cases, criminal charges are based on evidence uncovered during police searches. While search warrants are usually required before police officers can search a person’s home or property, there are some situations where police have claimed that they are allowed to conduct searches without obtaining a warrant. Some recent rulings by the Supreme Court have limited the types of warrantless searches that police can perform, and this may affect the types of evidence that can be used against those who are facing criminal charges.

Warrantless Searches and Community Caretaking

In May 2021, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case of Caniglia v. Strom, in which a Rhode Island man’s weapons were confiscated by police officers. Following an argument between the man and his wife, police were asked to perform a wellness check, and they informed the man that if he agreed to a mental health evaluation, his legally obtained weapons would not be confiscated. However, while the man was receiving the evaluation, the officers entered his home and took his weapons, claiming that this was done for “safekeeping.”

The key issue in this case involved whether the officers were allowed to enter and search the man’s home without a warrant because they were performing “community caretaking” functions. In the past, police have been able to receive exceptions to the Fourth Amendment requirement to obtain a search warrant in cases where they were performing these types of functions. However, advocates for civil liberties have stated that “community caretaking” has not been well-defined, and even though this exception was originally meant to allow police to search a vehicle that had been impounded, it has been used in a wide variety of situations to justify searches of people’s homes.

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Connecticut criminal defense lawyer for eyewitness testimonyWhen a person faces criminal charges, a prosecutor will present evidence that is meant to show that they are guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. This would seem to be a high standard that ensures that a person will only be convicted if there is no uncertainty about whether they actually committed the crime they are accused of. Unfortunately, the reality in many criminal cases is much different, and people are often convicted based solely on the testimony of eyewitnesses. While people’s observations may seem to be reliable, studies have shown that there are many factors that can affect what a witness sees and remembers, and as a result, many people have been wrongfully convicted.

The Problems With Eyewitness Testimony

“You don’t remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.” -John Green

Most people trust what they see, and because of this, they will believe witnesses who report that they observed a crime and can identify a suspect. However, many people do not realize how unreliable witnesses’ memories actually are. Scientists who have studied these issues report that there are many reasons why people may fail to properly recall what they believe they saw, and they often involve uncertainty and bias.

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Connecticut criminal defense lawyer for traffic stopsTraffic stops have been a topic of discussion recently due to multiple incidents in which people were killed by police officers after being pulled over for minor traffic violations. The most recent high-profile case, which took place in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, involved Daunte Wright, a Black man, being killed after being pulled over for an expired vehicle registration. In that case, the officer claimed that she meant to use a Taser, but accidentally drew her firearm instead and fired a fatal shot. 

Unfortunately, these types of situations occur all too frequently. Many drivers, especially those who are minorities or people of color, worry that they will do the wrong thing after being pulled over, leading police officers to take violent action and injure or kill them. By understanding the right steps to take during a traffic stop, drivers and passengers can avoid being harmed and protect their rights if they end up facing criminal charges.

What You Should Do During a Traffic Stop

Police officers may pull drivers over for a variety of reasons, including speeding or other traffic violations, as well as issues such as expired license plates, broken headlights or tail lights, or because a vehicle matched the description of one that was involved in an alleged crime. In many cases, officers use these types of stops as a pretext to make a criminal arrest for drug charges or motor vehicle theft. If you are stopped by police, you will want to do the following:

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Hartford criminal defense lawyer for police misconductOver the past several years, a great deal of attention has been paid to the issue of police misconduct. In several high-profile cases, police officers have been accused of using excessive force, especially against minorities. This was most recently highlighted in the case of Daunte Wright, who was killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. This particular case has highlighted an issue that affects many Black people and other minorities. Police officers often pull people over for minor traffic violations, but these incidents may lead to more serious criminal charges, and an encounter may turn deadly, resulting in serious injuries or death.

How Police Use Traffic Stops as “Fishing Expeditions”

Traffic stops are meant to protect public safety, and police officers may stop a driver who has committed traffic violations such as speeding, running a red light, making illegal turns, or other unlawful actions that endanger others on the road. However, officers may pull people over for other types of violations, such as an expired registration or a broken tail light. 

In many cases, traffic stops for minor violations are used as an attempt to find probable cause for other more serious offenses, and people of color are disproportionately targeted in these types of situations. In the case of Daunte Wright, the officer cited him for having an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror, stating that this was an obstruction that affected his view of the road. Many people have alleged that police officers perform these types of traffic stops in hopes of uncovering criminal activity that will allow them to make an arrest. By using a minor traffic violation as a pretext, officers may then ask about whether a driver has stolen the car or whether they have been using drugs, and they may arrest the driver based on their answers, their behavior, or the officer’s observations of objects inside the vehicle.

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