Can Police Randomly Stop Drivers?
Police cannot randomly stop drivers. A major defense to Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (“DUI”) is challenging such illegal seizures. A good DUI lawyer, Fairfax Va will always have the concept of this defense in his legal tool kit.
To lawfully seize a motorist, a police officer must have a “reasonable suspicion” based on “articulable facts” that a crime or traffic offense is occurring in his presence. This means he must have more than a hunch, but far less proof than would be necessary to convict for any crime or traffic offense.
I’ve been a DUI lawyer, Fairfax Va for over twenty years. (I keep referring to Fairfax, Va because, procedurally, this is Virginia’s toughest jurisdiction). Here are some of the illegal seizures I’ve seen:
- A motorist was pulled over for making a U-turn where a no U-turn sign had previously been posted. (For some reason, it had been removed).
- A motorist was pulled over for driving up and down the interstate a couple of times between nearby exits.
- Police were called to scene on a crime and saw the vehicle in the vicinity and seized it, but there was no description of the vehicle involved in the crime.
- A motorist weaved a couple of times within his lane over a half mile and the officer seized it.
- A motorist was stopped during a “checkpoint” that was operated improperly.
- A motorist pulled over because he and his passenger were acting “suspiciously” by constantly touching each other.
- A motorist was stopped after he and the officer were in a 7-11 together and the motorist wouldn’t make eye contact and walked away from the officer without buying anything.
In each of those cases, the police lacked the right to seize a motorist. The failure of a police officer to correctly stop a motorist is very powerful. A DUI lawyer, Fairfax Va will argue that anything the police officer learned as a result of the illegal seizure should be suppressed from evidence. This is called the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine. The rationale is that if the “tree” is poisonous (in this analogy, the “tree” is the illegal seizure), the “fruit” is also poisonous. (In this analogy, the “fruit” is the criminal evidence obtained from an illegal seizure). In the context of a DUI, even if a police officer has great proof that a motorist was drunk, he can’t use that proof in court if he learned it only because he made an illegal stop of the motorist. The poisonous tree doctrine is that powerful. (The rationale is that police will not violate the constitutional rights of citizens if they can’t make use of evidence they obtain through such violations).
A DUI lawyer, Fairfax Va,, upon seeing indicators of an illegal seizure will file a Motion to Suppress and argue it before the trial itself. If a judge sustains the motion, the accused defendant wins his case. The law is clear: police cannot randomly stop drivers.