Law enforcement officers often have to walk a fine line between respecting an individual's civil rights and protecting society as a whole. While there are certainly situations in which law enforcement officers must follow their own best judgment, in most scenarios, there is a clear-cut policy in place.
Best practices for law enforcement minimize the intrusion on the rights of the average citizen while ensuring that law enforcement can perform their job adequately. For example, courts in many states have repeatedly ruled that profiling drivers based on age, race or other factors in order to conduct a traffic stop is not legal. It represents a violation of that individual's basic liberties.
However, roadblocks that detain large numbers of individuals, most of whom are innocent of any offense, are constitutional and legal. Knowing the difference between a legal and an illegal traffic stop can help you determine the best possible strategy for a defense if you're facing impaired driving charges.
Police officers need a valid reason to stop your vehicle
With the exception of sobriety checkpoints or roadblocks, which indiscriminately stop all vehicles, law enforcement officers typically need to have a reasonable suspicion before they pull an individual over for any purpose. Reasons for a stop can be due to driving issues or even because the vehicle looks similar to one associated with a recent crime.
Whether someone fails to use their blinkers, exceeds the speed limit or makes an illegal u-turn, minor driving infractions are often grounds for traffic stops that can later result in arrests for issues like drunk driving. The same is true for traffic stops related to a vehicle or driver that matches the description released in conjunction with a recent crime.
Even though the officer did not pull someone over with the initial suspicion of impaired driving, evidence gathered during the traffic stop may have made impairment obvious to the officers, which then provides them with legal grounds for an arrest.
Always find out the reason for your traffic stop
As soon as an officer pulls you over, you should always ask for the purpose of the stop. Officer should have a clear and simple reason, whether it is a damaged tail light or a driving infraction. If they cannot provide you with such a reason, you may very well be the victim of profiling or indiscriminate traffic stops.
Indiana is one of many states that engages in roadblocks and sobriety checkpoints, a practice upheld by the state constitution. However, even stops that occur as part of a checkpoint could still violate your rights.
Questioning the validity of the stop can help you defeat a charge
Even if officers later determined that you were violating the law in some manner, possibly by driving while under the influence, you can still avoid conviction in circumstances where the initial stop was a clear violation of your civil rights.
Whether the officer engaged in racial profiling or other questionable tactics, you should absolutely discuss your concerns about the circumstances of your stop and arrest with an experienced defense attorney.