How Pretextual Traffic Stops Can Lead to Criminal Charges

 Posted on October 23,2023 in Criminal Defense

Untitled---2023-10-23T151645.594.jpgBeing pulled over by a police officer is never a pleasant experience, but while these situations can be a fairly minor inconvenience for some people, they can be very dangerous for others. While traffic stops are usually meant to address traffic violations such as speeding, they may be used by police officers as a method to investigate someone they believe is suspicious and uncover evidence that could be used to perform an arrest and pursue more serious criminal charges. Due to racial profiling and the history of unfair treatment of minorities by law enforcement in the United States, these pretextual traffic stops can put some people at risk of being harmed or killed by police officers.

Defending against criminal charges resulting from pretextual traffic stops is not always easy. However, with the help of an attorney, defendants can address violations of their rights, illegal searches of their vehicles, or other forms of police misconduct.

What Is a Pretextual Traffic Stop?

A pretextual traffic stop occurs when an officer uses a minor violation as an excuse to pull over a vehicle in order to further investigate a person for additional criminal charges. Since there are a wide variety of reasons why an officer may pull someone over and issue a traffic ticket, traffic stops that were originally based on minor, inconsequential issues can put drivers and passengers at risk of facing serious charges for unrelated crimes. 

Officers who believe that a driver seems suspicious may come up with a variety of reasons to pull them over, such as a broken taillight, an air freshener hanging from a rearview mirror, a lane change without signaling, driving below the speed limit, or any number of other alleged violations. They may then question the driver or others in the vehicle about their activities, looking for signs that they may have been drinking or using drugs, or they may look inside a vehicle for weapons, drugs, or other types of contraband. Even though they may have had no reason to believe that a person had engaged in illegal behavior, a traffic stop for a minor violation may give them the opening to look for incriminating evidence that will allow them to perform an arrest.

Criminal justice advocates have raised concerns about the use of these types of traffic stops, since they can violate people’s privacy rights and their protections against unlawful search and seizure. These issues can not just lead to improper criminal charges, but they can also threaten the lives of many people. There have been a large number of high-profile cases in which Black drivers and other minorities have been killed in confrontations with police officers who pulled them over for minor traffic violations. However, even when situations do not lead to violence, many people face unfair and unnecessary criminal charges due to pretextual traffic stops.

Common Reasons for Pretextual Traffic Stops

Police officers may find reasons to stop drivers who they believe have engaged in illegal activities. These suspicions may be based on racial profiling or just a “hunch” that a person has committed a crime. During a traffic stop, an officer may look for evidence that may allow them to pursue charges based on:

  • Suspicion of drug possession: An officer may observe a person’s words, facial expressions, movements, and other factors to look for signs that they are have been using drugs. They may also look for items inside a vehicle that could indicate drug possession or drug use, providing them with a reason to perform a search of the vehicle in hopes of finding drugs or other illegal substances. 

  • Suspected transportation of stolen goods: Officers may look for reasons to charge a person with theft based on items inside a vehicle. They may look through a car’s windows at items in the back seat, or they may ask to search a car’s trunk to look for items that may have possibly been stolen.

  • Suspicion of firearms possession: While people may legally own and carry firearms, officers may look for a reason to pursue weapons charges against a driver or others in a vehicle. In some cases, passengers may be charged with weapons possession simply because they were riding in a vehicle in which a driver was carrying a legal firearm.

These are just a few of the potential criminal charges that may arise from pretextual traffic stops. Officers may also perform these stops based on descriptions of people who are suspected of committing crimes such as murder, robbery, or sexual assault. In many cases, Black people and other minorities are placed at risk because they supposedly match descriptions of criminal suspects, and they may face arrests and imprisonment based on false accusations that arose in situations where they should not have been stopped in the first place.

Contact Our Hartford Criminal Defense Lawyer for Pretextual Traffic Stops

If you have been arrested after a traffic stop and charged with a serious criminal offense, you will need to determine how to defend against these charges. At Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we believe in protecting the rights of criminal defendants, and we can help address issues such as racial profiling or illegal searches. Our Connecticut criminal defense attorney will help you fight against police misconduct, and we will do everything we can to help you avoid a conviction. To learn how we can help with your case, contact us at 860-290-8690 and set up a free consultation today.

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