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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Defense to Traffic Stops (no license/etc.)

We have a section of the firm that specializes in criminal law, and a frequent cause of action in this group is (are) traffic stops. Now, for your average ticket, this is not an issue. But what if you are stopped and then fined for having an expired license? For driving without a license? For driving on a suspended license? Even some DUI issues fall into the questionable area of: Do police have the right to stop you for no reason other than to check your credentials or who is in your car?

I spoke with an associate of Hanover Law, Mr. Stephen Salwierak. He is the attorney that handles most of our litigation in Virginia, and often runs into illegal stop questions in traffic matters. He provided a brief explanation out of a recent case filing he made in Fairfax.

(from Mr. Salwierak)

Without violating Fourth Amendment protections, an officer may conduct a brief, investigatory stop when he has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968). A reasonable suspicion is more than and “unparticularized suspicion or ‘hunch.’” Id. at 27. To reach the level of reasonable suspicion requires less of a showing than probable cause, but still requires at least a minimal level of objective justification for making a stop. United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7 (1989).

These Fourth Amendment principles have been applied specifically to traffic stops. Any stop of a vehicle and subsequent detention of the driver is unreasonable under under the Fourth Amendment absent a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the driver is unlicensed or that the automobile is not registered, or that either the vehicle or an occupant is otherwise subject to seizure for a violation of the law. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 663 (1979). The Supreme Court of Virginia has applied the rule in Prouse, making clear the requirement that a police officer in the Commonwealth may make a traffic stop only when he has reasonable suspicion that a traffic or equipment violation has occurred. Bass v. Commonwealth, 259 Va. 470, 475, 525 S.E.2d 921, 925 (2000).

In practice, these summaries would then be followed by a review of the fact for each particular case, and a conclusory statement such as:

"CLIENT'S" constitutionally guaranteed protection against an unreasonable search and seizure has clearly been violated. He was twice pulled over and issued citations for a violation that, but for the illegal seizure and subsequent investigation, would not have been discovered. There are no facts to suggest that "CLIENT" was stopped based on anything other than a “hunch” that may have been felt by the officers. Because it is illegal for an officer to stop a person based on anything less than a reasonable articulable suspicion that criminal activity has taken place, "CLIENT" should never have been stopped, because no such suspicion existed. Finally, because "CLIENT" could not be permissibly stopped, he never should have been issued a citation for driving on a suspended license, and both of the citations should be dismissed.

Note how the summary paragraph cleanly and clearly brings together the constitutional law with the facts of the case (in this case the illegal stops), to reach a conclusion that clearly shows the client is not guilty.

We welcome discussing any traffic or DUI infraction you might have. Traffic and DUI cases can be tricky, and require a skilled, knowledgeable attorney to help navigate the best end scenario (plea or not-guilty as appropriate). Don't make a mistake that could cost your license or even jail! Contact Hanover Law and ask to speak to a skilled attorney in criminal law.


Sean R. Hanover, Esq
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