No one enjoys being stopped by highway patrol officers who will pull anyone over for a minor infraction only to attempt forcing a vehicular search or sobriety field test. This happens regularly whether Pennsylvania police departments want to admit it or not. What begins as a stop regarding a vehicle issue becomes a full-fledged DUI or drug investigation in short order. The truth is that officers are actually required by protocol to detain drivers for as short of a time span as possible when conducting a traffic stop or roadblock, and roadblocks are actually required to be published beforehand when they are scheduled. However, unjustified stops are still very common.
The plain sight rule
While officers must be able to claim reasonable suspicion as a reason for stopping drivers in traffic, they do have the authority to proceed to find the probable cause if they view anything that can support the request to search the vehicle or any passengers. This can range from actually seeing contraband to sensing suspicious activity by passengers or the driver. The U.S. Supreme Court has continually held this is justified per the “plain sight” rule, and any detaining of a suspect in a search operation is acceptable for as long as the search requires. However, plain sight testimony can be contested in court when no documented evidence is presented by the prosecution.
One of the primary factors that can make continued questioning unjustified as unreasonable is when police have already issued a citation. What they tend to do is run a full background check first as though everyone is a fugitive from justice, which is actually a systemic abuse of power. Police officers will skirt all their restrictions as a matter of training, which often results in unreasonable and illegal searches after detaining a questioned driver. Everyone is a suspect to some officers, and even an officer’s history of unjustified detainment can be used as a factor in a criminal defense strategy.
Never accept the concept that all traffic stops are justified. It is important to plead not guilty first, and let the case be adjudicated through the court system, where a criminal defense can be presented.