Yesterday I served as a lecturer for a Missouri Bar continuing legal education course regarding traffic stops for lawyers. Lawyers, like most professionals, are required to obtain a set number of continuing education hours each year. The course material covered a variety of topics involving traffic stops, to include an officer’s authority to initiate a traffic stop of a vehicle, challenging the constitutionality of a traffic stop, the seizure of the driver or passenger, and searches of the vehicle.
The general public might be surprised to learn that officers are not limited to stopping vehicles for only traffic violations. Law enforcement can initiate traffic stops for a variety of reasons including whether or not the officer believes a vehicle may be operating in an unusual manner such as operating too slowly or weaving in a lane of traffic. There is no limitation on how long an officer can follow a vehicle before pulling it over. So long as the officer can justify the traffic stop, courts have regularly determined that there is no violation of a driver’s constitutional rights to be free from an unreasonable seizure whether under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution or the Missouri Constitution. This may explain why cops or the highway patrol might follow a vehicle for several miles before pulling a vehicle over. Anonymous tips can even form a basis for a traffic stop where the officer did not observe any other traffic violations.
Once the traffic stop occurs, the officer has the right to request identification and proof of insurance. During this time, if the officer observes anything that leads him to believe that there may be evidence of further criminal activity, the officer has the right to detain the driver further. Evidence of criminal activity could include, but is not limited to, the smell of marijuana or alcohol, suspicious movements by the driver or passenger, or behaviors or indicators that suggest the driver may be under the influence of alcohol or a drug.
Please note that if you or someone you know has been stopped and arrested arising from a traffic stop of your car or vehicle that the driver (and sometimes the passenger) have certain rights. For more information please contact me at (573) 821-4013 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.