There is a common misconception among individuals in society. They assume that police officers will pull over a vehicle simply because they have nothing to do or to purposely strike fear in the public. In reality, Massachusetts has strict guidelines for when a police officer can pull over a vehicle – and it is not at the officer’s whim.
Police Cannot Stop You Unless They Have Probable Cause
A police officer cannot perform a traffic stop unless they have probable cause. This can include everything from a traffic violation to broken tail lights. If the police suspect your vehicle has illegal substances inside, they still need probable cause to perform the traffic stop – and they need more probable cause to search your vehicle.
If, however, you were breaking traffic laws (such as speeding) and the police officer pulls you over and has probable cause to search your vehicle, what they find can be used against you in court. Also, it is important to realize that in court, police officers do not need to issue a traffic citation to provide probable cause for stopping you. Instead, their notes regarding the situation are evidence enough to prove their reason behind the traffic stop. If, however, the officer failed to write his or her narrative regarding the stop, then probable cause may not be present and your case could be dismissed.
Realize You Don’t Have to Pull Over Until You’re in a Safe Area
Most people assume that they must pull over right away, regardless of where they are. However, you are allowed to pull over where you can safely do so. If you cannot pull over right away, give the officer a signal and still drive the speed limit until you can find a safe place to pull over. Calmly explain to the officer your reasons for driving further until pulling over.
You Have the Right to Stay in Your Car
There is no law that states you must get out of your vehicle – however refusing to do so may give an officer probable cause to search your vehicle. Most police officers, however, do not ask individuals to exit the vehicle because of safety issues. If they do, it is because their own safety is a concern – such as they suspect you are concealing a weapon.
You Have the Right to Question an Officer’s Credentials
If you suspect the officer is not a real police officer, you have the right to see their badge and identification. If you still suspect they are not an officer, request they have a supervisor come to the scene or ask if you can follow them to the station. You are within your rights to do so and while it may create a tense situation, you are doing so for your own safety.
The Plain View Rule
Even if the officer does not have probable cause to search your vehicle, any items that are in plain view – easily seen through the windows – can be seized if they are illegal objects. Things like open alcohol containers, drug paraphernalia, etc. can be seized and used against you for additional criminal charges.
Were You Pulled Over Without Cause? Contact Keegan Law
While officers are required to have reasonable suspicion before pulling over a vehicle, not all officers exercise that rule. If you feel you were pulled over for no reason or targeted in some way, you need a criminal defense attorney that can disprove the officer’s cause. Keegan Law can assist you with your case. Contact us online or call (617) 799-7644 to schedule a case evaluation.