Whether it’s a drunk driving (DUI), driver’s license restoration, driving while license suspended or revoked, or even a drug possession or indecent exposure charge, the overwhelming majority of the cases I handle can trace their beginnings to the operation of a motor vehicle. Criminal and driver’s license cases as a result of something that was done in or with a car is something that I deal with every day, and almost all day long. A traffic stop can give rise to all kinds of legal issues (the most important of which is called “reasonable suspicion“), but the reality is that, beyond those issues, almost everyone I represent has found him or herself in trouble for something related to a vehicle. In driver’s license restoration cases, I help get somebody back into the driver’s seat. In all other situations, I help someone get out of trouble. In this brief article, I’ll take a step away from my usual, informational installment and take a look at things from my side of the table, as the lawyer.
Consider this: A somewhat niche and unique aspect of my practice concentrates in indecent exposure cases. Almost every exposure case that I handle has taken place in a car. And while I’ve had a few “drunk boating” cases in my career, with but a few exceptions, every DUI case that has ever come into my office originated in a 4-wheeled vehicle. In today’s world, everyone has a cellphone. The police can, and often do get a real time report of illegal activity (from a drunk driver to a driver exposing himself) from a cell phone tip. I’ve had countless cases where a tipster has remained on the phone so the police could locate a drunk driver as the caller followed him or her. “Suspicious activity” calls normally get a pretty quick police response, as well, especially in the suburbs. When you’re 19, you might wonder why anyone would be concerned about your car driving around the same neighborhood at 1 in the morning; when you’re a homeowner, you wonder what that car is up to, and when you’re the police officer who stops the car and finds a bunch of kids with alcohol and/or marijuana, you wonder how they could be so clueless.
Of course, there are legal issues involved in the pulling over of motor vehicles, but the real world truth is that very few cases ever get tossed out of Metro-Detroit courts for an illegal traffic stop. Here is the big question I get asked all the time: “Don’t the police need probable cause to pull me over?” The answer, and it may surprise you, is “No.” The police merely need a “reasonable suspicion” to pull someone over. Once you’re pulled over, they’ll need probable cause to arrest you for something, but that’s a whole different matter. The point here is that the law does not require an officer have “probable cause” to pull over a vehicle. Everything that happens thereafter, however, flows from that stop…