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SC High Court: Of Course Folks Are Nervous at Traffic Stops!

Posted on Feb 15, 2016

Lately, we’ve been discussing when police can search a car after a traffic stop, and the reasons they give for it. See the articles below.

You may be shocked to discover a chief reason they cite is that the suspect was nervous. And, honestly, your conduct can be a factor in raising suspicions. But we’ve noticed law enforcement has begun to rely on this factor to the extreme. We’ve seen cases where officers describe seeing your heart beat through your shirt and witnessing labored breathing. Sometimes we wonder if some officers take a blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope with them to your car! Some act like they check your pulse along with your license and registration.

And we’re not the only ones who noticed. In a decision called State v. Moore, issued January 27, 2016, the South Carolina Supreme Court declared they’d had enough of officers making mountains out of molehills on suspect nervousness. The Court stated:

Moore exhibited excessive nervousness in the judgment of the officer, which lends support to a finding of reasonable suspicion to prolong the traffic stop. We nevertheless comment on law enforcement's reliance on the seemingly omnipresent factor of nervousness. General nervousness will almost invariably be present in a traffic stop. At the suppression hearing, Deputy Owens gave a lengthy list of factors in support of reasonable suspicion, including many that were merely different manifestations of the element of nervousness. While nervous behavior is a pertinent factor in determining reasonable suspicion, we, like many appellate courts, have become weary with the many creative ways law enforcement attempts to parlay the single element of nervousness into a myriad of factors supporting reasonable suspicion. Here, law enforcement's penchant for turning nervousness into a laundry list of factors was not necessary.

In other words, “Everybody’s nervous. Nerves is nerves. Lay off already!”

Unfortunately for Mr. Moore, the Court ruled the deputy had enough evidence—including his excessive nervousness—to justify the search, where officers found a handgun and enough crack cocaine to earn a trafficking and weapons conviction, resulting in a 25 year sentence.

The Lesson

When officers search your car at a traffic stop, they’ve got to have the right evidence to justify it. Whether they did is a complex question of your legal rights and precise facts that happen in the blink of an eye.

A trained criminal defense attorney can get to the bottom of that and present a compelling argument to help protect you from ending up like Mr. Moore. Call us now at (888) 230-1841 or (864) 582-0416 to schedule a free meeting so we can start shielding you from the overwhelming power of the government.