When License and Registration Checks Are Illegal

Anyone who has been pulled over for a traffic stop has experienced a police officer asking for his or her license and registration. While this seems like “business as usual” when it comes to traffic violations, Americans are growing more suspicious of the actions of police officers in recent years. This is due in many respects to the headlines and social media posts we have been seeing that are cause for alarm. While the appropriate behavior of law enforcement officers depends on the situation, it is important to know which situations call search and seizure and which situations do not.

Smartphones that record video have become popular in encounters with officers – individuals are taking to recording the actions of police officers during routine traffic stops and other events. In one incident in Florida, a driver recorded a police officer at a DUI traffic stop. The driver refused to give his driver’s license and registration to the officer and asked the officer to explain what probable cause he or she had for asking for that information. When the officer threatened to arrest the driver for interference, the driver continued on and asked for the officer’s supervisor to come to the checkpoint.

When the supervisor arrived at the checkpoint, he leaned into the car, did not detect any smell of alcohol, and allowed the driver to continue on with his day. The original officer was said to be left very confused.

There is a very likely reason why the supervising officer allowed the driver to go without checking his paperwork – a Supreme Court case named Delaware v. Prouse from 1979 upheld that it is improper for law enforcement officers to check a driver’s license and registration without reasonable suspicion and that drivers cannot be detained simply to have their license and registration checked. Additionally, the United States Constitution contains a provision against irrational search and seizure, which also shields citizens from this type of police conduct.

For drivers who believe their rights have been violated by an unreasonable search and seizure, a well-versed criminal law attorney can be an invaluable resource. These legal professionals know the criminal law in their residing state and others and are able to let their client know what rights they can and should expect to be given by law enforcement. Should the client choose to press charges, these attorneys are able to help them build a strong case.

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