Generally, police officers are required to have either reasonable suspicion or probable cause in order to stop or arrest someone for a suspected crime. However, when police officers are unable to produce this reasonable suspicion or probable cause, they sometimes rely on a pretextual stop in order to detain someone.
What Is A Pretextual Stop?
A pretextual stop is a when a police officer detains an individual for a minor crime, like a traffic violation, because they believe that the person is actually involved or has committed another more serious crime. Because a pretextual stop is fueled by the subjective opinion of the police officer, many people believe that these stops are illegal because they are based on age, race, or appearance of the individual. However, courts generally ignore police officers’ subjective motivation when looking at whether their conduct was legal.
Whren v. United States
In Whren v. United States, police officers in an unmarked police car were patrolling a high crime area. While on their patrol, the officers noticed a SUV stopped at an intersection for a longer then normal period of time. After the driver saw the unmarked car, the SUV turned without signaling and sped off. Based off of this minor traffic violation, the police officers pulled over the vehicle and observed drugs inside the vehicle. During the trial, the defendants tried to suppress the evidence of the drugs by arguing that the traffic stop was pretextual and only a poly by the police officers in order to look inside the vehicle for other possible crimes. After hearing the arguments and legal theories by both parties, the Supreme Court ruled that regardless of the police officers’ subjective intent, the stop was legal due to the legitimate traffic violation.
Although pretextual stops are based on potentially illegal bias or discrimination, often times it is impossible to determine the subjective intent of the police officer. As such, based on Whren v. United States, the Supreme Court has given police officers the ability to pull over individuals using pretextual stops without repercussions, as long as the police officers can identify some minor traffic violation. Due to this, the only defense against pretextual stops is to not violate any traffic laws. Without a identifiable violation by the police officer, there exists no reason to pull you over.
If you have been charged with a crime after the police have pulled you over in a car, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney that can help zealously defend your case. Contact Us at Minick Law, P.C. for a free consultation on your case.