Reasonable Suspicion For a Traffic Stop in California

October 24, 2016

Reasonable Suspicion for a Traffic Stop in California

Most people dread the sound of the approaching police siren. In some cases, you are aware of why the police stop you. Maybe you have an expired registration or you know that you drove faster than the speed limit. But in many situations, you can be puzzled when the law enforcement officers ask you to pull over.

A police officer can pull over a vehicle if he has a “reasonable suspicion” that a crime occurred.   A traffic stop is justified at its inception if based on at least reasonable suspicion that the driver has violated the Vehicle Code or some other law. (People v. Bell 43 Cal.App. 4th 754).  We don’t think of traffic violations as crimes – but they are, albeit very minor crimes called infractions.  An infraction is the type of crime for which jail can not be imposed.  Any traffic violations are thus crimes and enough to pull you over.  California Vehicle Code 2804 allows a California Highway Patrol Officer to require a driver to stop and inspect and submit for inspection upon a belief that any traffic violation took place. A suspicion of DUI is NOT a good reason to stop you. There must be another good reasons for a traffic stop.
Here are just some of the examples on how police can stop your vehicle

Reasonable Suspicion 1: Talking on a mobile phone.

As of September 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a new state bill. The new law prohibits the use of any mobile device for texting or talking for any reason while operating a vehicle. The law is an attempt to prevent distracted driving. California Highway Patrol published statistics showing that more than 13 thousand drivers were cited for distracted driving in 2016. The law came into effect in January 2017 and changed the existing law which allowed under some condition to hold a phone. The new law only allows usage of a phone when it is installed in a vehicle on a phone-mount and when a single swipe or tap of a finger will activate or deactivate a feature. Holding a phone with a hand is punishable by a fine of $20 for the first-time offense, and $50 for a second and subsequent violation.  Next year, this law changes to add points to the driving record upon conviction.

Reasonable Suspicion 2: 911 or Dispatch Tip.

Under some circumstances, law enforcement can stop a vehicle that matches a description of a vehicle used in a crime or matching a description of a stolen vehicle. If this a reason for the police stop, please contact an attorney for a free consultation and an explanation on how to fight your case.

Reasonable Suspicion 3: Sobriety Check Point.

The police may set up sobriety checkpoints to stop and inspect drivers as long as they comply with the legal requirement of a stop. The requirements are very technical, so please contact an attorney if you were arrested at a sobriety checkpoint.  Ingressol v. Palmer is the case that decided the requirement for a checkpoint.  For example, police must follow a neutral formula such as stopping every third driver, police must announce the checkpoint before they are setting it up; the reason for a checkpoint must is not to “ferret out crime” but to deter drunk driving, and so forth.

Reasonable Suspicion 4: Suspended Driver’s License. 

Police can now stop a vehicle when the driver’s license of the owner’s vehicle is revoked or suspended.  This is a 2020 decision from the USSC in Kansas v. Glover (140 S. Ct 1183).  There, a police officer checked the license plate of a truck driving in front of him and learned that it is registered to Mr. Glover, whose license was revoked.  The Supreme Court decided that this is a good enough reason to stop the truck to check if Glover, in fact, drives that vehicle.  How to limit it:  (1) Glover’s license was revoked and not suspended and the difference in Kansan is very substantial.  In California, the difference is not as substantial – however, we have to argue that this case is not applicable to suspended licenses because Glover’s license was revoked.

Reasonable Suspicion 5: Traffic Violations.

Any violation of traffic laws can cause an officer to stop your vehicle. For example weaving, equipment violation, tinted windows, running a red light, or not wearing seat belts can be a basis for pulling over your vehicle.

Reasonable Suspicion 6: License Plate Violations. 

California Vehicle Code 5200 requires license plates on a car registered in California.  The license plate must have a tag with a month and year the registration expires on it. Passenger vehicles must have two license plates – one attached in the front and the other one in the rear.  The license plate must be unobstructed by anything including license plate frames.  One famous case involves a stop based in part on the frame having palm trees that extended too far into the license plate and partially blocking it. All these, license plate violations can cause an officer to stop your vehicle.

If you just bought your car, your car must have a temporary registration certificate issued by DMV. This temporary registration is often called a “paper plate“. The paper plates are often attached as a window sticker to the rear window of the vehicle. It is your responsibility to make sure the paper plate is valid to permit you to drive legally until the DMV issues a regular license plate to you.

Can an expired sticker on a registration present a reasonable suspicion and basis for a stop?  Not always: case in POINT: People v. Nabong: there is a 2004 in San Mateo an officer pulled over a car with an expired tag and a temporary registration in a window.  Because Nabong could have applied for registration but did not receive it yet the stop was suppressed.

Reasonable Suspicion 7: Speeding and Unusual Braking pattern.

To many police officers, rapid acceleration, sharp turns, abrupt stops indicate impairment. Of course, speeding by itself is a good reason for the police officer to stop you. But driving too slow can cause reasonable suspicion and a reason for an officer to stop you.

Reasonable Suspicion 8: Lane changing.

Unsafe or quick maneuvering from one lane to another with elements of weaving can be a basis to stop your vehicle. Police officers might comment that you were driving dangerously and almost colliding with another vehicle. The police officers also are trained in spotting tell tales of drunk driving, such as drifting slowly to one side or tailgating. Straddling lanes is a typical reason why many drivers get pulled over by police. Traffic police officers may suspect drunk driving because lane straddling indicates a problem with coordination, a sign of drunk driving. To avoid being pulled over you must not violate traffic laws and change lanes carefully. 

Reasonable Suspicion 9: Failure to Stop at a Stop Sign or Limit Line.

Reckless driving with “rolling stops” is a common basis for police stops. If you are approaching a stop sign, you must stop at the limit line even if there are no cars nearby. These traffic laws are enforced are lot more in areas where someone may be injured, such as near schools or areas with many pedestrians. Pedestrians are often given right of way so, if you are observing pedestrians attempting to cross the road, please stop to allow them to pass. The approaching emergency vehicle with flashing lights or sirens, like an ambulance or fire brigade, also requires you to pull off the road.

Reasonable Suspicion 10: Passing and Turnings.

Turning right on a red light requires a stop in California. Police will often stop drivers for failing to stop at the red light before making a right turn.

Reasonable Suspicion 11: Equipment violations.

It’s against the law to drive when there are technical or mechanical problems with your vehicle. These may include: nonfunctional headlights or taillights, malfunctioning wipers, broken windshield or side-view mirrors, or driver and passenger side windows tint. Traffic police officers will often stop drivers for these violations and this is considered a sufficient probable cause.

When police stopped your vehicle and they suspect a DUI, they will continue their observation through the entire encounter. So don’t behave aggressively, don’t be impulsive, too argumentative or rude. Police will often ask if you know the reason why you’ve been pulled over. Admitting to a traffic violation is common because people will often blurt out admitting to a violation of the law and providing additional grounds for investigation. If you believe you didn’t do anything wrong, remain calm, take a deep breath and answer considerately.

Multiple police agencies might enforce the law in California. For example, California Highway Patrol enforces laws on the state highways, county Sheriff enforces the law in the county and local police agencies enforce the law in chartered cities. In Los Angeles, LAPD enforces the law in the city, CHP enforces the law on state’s highways and LASD will often conduct patrol in unincorporated areas. All 3 police agencies have powers to arrest a person for a DUI and prosecute in state courts.

Los Angeles DUI Attorney

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