When a police officer conducts a traffic stop, the outcome of that stop may depend on the evidence that the officer discovers. For instance, an officer may pull someone over for driving with their headlights off, but then he or she may find that the driver is impaired. This discovery turns it into a DWI stop.
All of this is true, but it’s important to remember that the chain of evidence actually begins before the stop. The officer needs to have probable cause in advance or they are not allowed to make that stop to begin with. Under the Fourth Amendment, drivers have protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, and that means traffic stops cannot be random.
You may still have questions:
What reasons do officers look for?
In some cases, officers will look for very specific reasons to stop vehicles. They may set up at a certain place on the interstate where they think they’ll be able to catch speeding drivers, for instance. Some officers will also be focused on finding impaired drivers, and they may stick to local bar districts or places where drunk driving arrests are more frequent.
But even officers who know what they’re looking for must have probable cause before they initiate a stop. Seeing someone driving with their headlights off, as noted above, is one example. But they can also stop drivers for mechanical issues with their cars, for making common driving mistakes, for having something obstructing their view or for a myriad of other minor reasons.
If you’re facing any types of charges that stem from a traffic stop, it’s often important to know that the initial stop happened legally.