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Police misconduct during traffic stops: What does it look like?

Pennsylvania police pull motorists over every day for a wide range of reasons. And although many of these stops result in a ticket, fine and cloud over the driver’s day, some can take a far more upsetting turn. Such can be the case if a traffic stop results in drug charges.

Drivers can be arrested and charged with drug possession, drug trafficking or impaired driving after being stopped by police. However, reports suggest that in too many cases, the charges stem from a wrongful stop and police misconduct.

Elements of an improper stop

Officers must have probable cause to stop a motorist. In other words, he or she must have reason to believe the driver violated the motor vehicle code or is engaging in criminal activity.

Failure to meet this requirement can mean that the driver may seek to suppress any evidence found after the wrongful stop.

Another element of an improper stop is one that takes an unreasonably long time. The law prohibits police from detaining people for longer than necessary, so if police hold a driver for an hour for a seat belt violation so that they can wait for a K-9 unit to arrive, that could warrant a challenge in court.

Finally, the search of a vehicle could be unlawful during a traffic stop. If police search a car without permission or a warrant, any evidence police collect could be dismissed. There are few circumstances in which police can perform a warrantless search without consent. One example is if police see evidence of criminal activity in plain view.

Unlawful stops: a bigger problem than you might think

In Pennsylvania, unfortunately, there is evidence to suggest that police officers often use tactics like those mentioned above in the interest of making arrests for crimes like drug offenses.

As discussed more fully in this article, Pennsylvania state troopers engage in a practice called highway interdiction. This tactic involves officers casting a wide net to pull over drivers for just about any reason with the intention of investigating the motorist for drug crimes.

However, scrutiny of these stops revealed that many of them were illegal and, ultimately, dismissed.

Considering how often these situations can arise and the severity of consequences a motorist could be facing for a drug-related crime, it is crucial to work with an attorney to examine the details of a stop and resulting arrest.


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