At the time of a traffic stop, it is common to feel stressed, confused and even angry. This range of emotions can make it difficult to focus on the details of your current circumstances.
However, it is critical to note that, much like other police procedures, traffic stops may be unlawful if the police do not conduct them properly. So, what precisely makes a traffic stop against the law?
Three reasons a traffic stop could be against the rules
There are many elements that could affect the legality of a traffic stop. However, some of the most common reasons to be aware of include:
- Cause: Police most often pull drivers over for traffic violations, such as speeding, broken headlights or taillights, reckless driving and more. If there was no violation of traffic rules on your part, and no particular reason for police to search for your vehicle or license plate, then the stop might be unlawful.
- Criminal background: Even if you have a prior conviction on your record, that is not reason enough for police to pull you over on the road – especially without cause or reasonable suspicion.
- Race or ethnicity: Unfortunately, there are significant racial disparities in traffic stop statistics. According to 2021 reports, North Carolina police stop Black drivers more frequently. Black drivers also face a higher chance of vehicle searches. If race – or any other protected status – is the only foreseeable reason for a traffic stop, it could be unlawful.
If you suspect an unlawful stop, you should make sure to remain civil and calm to protect yourself. However, as the American Civil Liberties Union emphasizes, you should write down every detail of the stop. Doing so may help to prove that the stop was against the rules, which could help suppress evidence collected during the stop.