When Can an Officer Stop Your Vehicle?

November 11, 2011

People often wonder what information a law enforcement officer needs before stopping a vehicle. Whenever there is objective evidence from which an officer could reasonably suspect that someone is violating, has violated or is about to violate the law, he or she may lawfully conduct an investigative stop of the vehicle, even though the driver may in fact be engaged in conduct which is perfectly innocent. Therefore, an officer who observes a driver swerving on the road in the middle of the night for no apparent reason may lawfully stop the driver on suspicion of drunk driving, even if it turns out that the driver had only swerved to avoid running over a family of baby ducks crossing the road.

The court of appeals recently decided a case that addressed reasonable suspicion for a stop, City of Sheboygan v. Reindl-Knaak (November 2, 2011). The defendant had an expired license plate on the front of her vehicle and a valid temporary plate on the rear of the vehicle. The officer saw the expired front plate as the defendant drove toward him.  He initiated a traffic stop and learned that the temporary rear plate was valid, but also observed signs of intoxication by the defendant. The court decided that the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle based on the expired front license plate and the observation of possible intoxication then provided reasonable suspicion to investigate further, administer field sobriety tests, and ultimately charge the defendant with Operating While Intoxicated.

Every case is different and should be examined based on its particular facts. Contact Axley’s experienced criminal defense attorneys for an analysis of defenses that may be available to you in your case.

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