Recently, we’ve been talking about traffic stop searches…and how some can be illegal. Today, we’re going to look at why they’re illegal, and what happens next.

Here’s the legal rule in a nutshell: if police unjustifiably keep you at a traffic stop, you’ve been illegally “seized”! It’s unconstitutional. And we have one big reason why that’s true:

The Fourth Amendment

The United States Constitution’s Fourth Amendment guarantees your right to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” This is the law, and not just any law—it’s the Constitution, the bedrock of all law in America. And it’s part of the Bill of Rights. That got added onto the Constitution after many of our forefathers adamantly refused to pass it until it did.

Those patriots truly valued freedom, since they knew what it was like to not have it. They knew who took it from them, and they knew they had to protect America from it ever happening again. So they limited the power of the government so it could never overrun us.

At a traffic stop, the law enforcement officers—whether they’re local cops or state police—represent the full force of the government. So the Fourth Amendment’s protective shield against excessive government power comes into force here.

Note the Fourth Amendment does not discriminate. It protects all people, even the guilty.

A Seizure Is Not a Shivering Fit

Legally, a “seizure” occurs when police stop you against your will. It includes a traffic stop, and keeping you around after one is supposed to be over.

The tough question is: when do police cross the line? Our courts observe traffic stops can end with a seizure or consensual encounter. The difference between the two is virtually undetectable to the untrained eye. But it can determine your case. If you stay voluntarily and allow a search, all the evidence comes in. If you’re unjustifiably seized, the search is illegal.

Consequences of Illegal Seizures for Police

The police are bound by the law, too. When they overstep it, there are consequences, just as for everyone else. For unjustified seizures, all evidence obtained as a result gets thrown out of trial. Often, that means the only crime you can be convicted of is the traffic violation they pulled you over for.

You Can’t Go It Alone And Expect To Win

If police turn a traffic stop into a fishing expedition, they don’t get to benefit from the catch. The tricky part is proving they did that. You need the keen eye of a determined, experienced criminal defense lawyer to analyze the evidence, cite the law, and create the best possible argument to convince a judge to dismiss or persuade a prosecutor that he’s got such a weak case he needs to make you an offer you can’t refuse.

Contact us from this website or your phone at (888) 230-1841 to schedule a free meeting to start building a defense over whether the police obeyed the law after they pulled you over. For you, it could be the difference between freedom and prison.


Rob Usry
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Rob is a Spartanburg personal injury lawyer. Rob also practices as a workers' compensation attorney.
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