What Happens When Officers Lose Reasonable Suspicion at a Traffic Stop?

Charlotte DWI Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “Can the police search my car without a warrant?”


In most instances, police officers are required to have reasonable suspicion when they conduct a traffic stop. Speeding, swerving in and out of lanes, using a phone while driving, or other traffic violations give an officer reasonable suspicion to pull a car over and investigate what is happening. When an officer conducts a traffic stop, he or she usually asks for your license, registration, and insurance, and then runs your information through their system to check you out. However, what happens if the reason the officer conducted the stop, providing reasonable suspicion, disappears? Can officers still conduct the traffic stop and ask for your license? The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently ruled on this issue and found that yes, an officer can continue the traffic stop even if the cause for the stop disappears.


handcuff-Charlotte-Monroe-Lake-Norman-Criminal-DWI-Lawyer-300x114State v. Miller


In State v. Miller, officers were conducting computer checks on license plates of the cars that passed them. One of the license plates they were checking showed the car being registered to a man who had a suspended license. At this point, the officers suspected that the driver may be driving unlawfully and started to conduct a traffic stop. While approaching the vehicle, officers quickly observed that the driver was a woman. The woman in the vehicle did not roll down the window when the officers approached the vehicle, but instead was fumbling around with her wallet. The officers knocked on the window to ask the woman to roll it down. The officer asked for her license, but the woman only acknowledged she had one and did not immediately present it.  She rolled the window down two inches. The officers then discovered that there was the smell of alcohol coming from the woman and/or vehicle. A driving while intoxicated (DWI) investigation ensued and the driver was arrested.


The driver, now the defendant, was found guilty in district court, but appealed to the superior court. The defendant was moving to suppress the evidence gathered at the traffic stop. The basis for this argument was that the driver was female and the cause for the stop was to see if the driver was the suspected male with a suspended license. The superior court denied this motion and the defendant appealed to the court of appeals. The court of appeals also rejected this argument finding that a driver appearing to be female did not eliminate the chance that the driver was the male who owned the vehicle. The court also cited the case Rodriguez v. United States that found that certain inquiries that are routine can occur at every traffic stop.


If you have questions over the legality of a traffic stop conducted and subsequent criminal charges you are facing, contact the attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC. We know that those charged with a crime are under a lot of stress and distress. Our attorney use every possible defense to give you the best chance at success under the circumstances. We investigate every step of the process to make sure that everything was conducted properly. Contact us today for a consultation. If you find yourself facing criminal charges and need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney in or around Charlotte, Lake Norman, or our new office in Monroe (by appointment only until 2019), please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.








The criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC make it their mission to zealously defend their clients on a wide range of criminal matters at both the state and federal levels. These matters may include any charge from traffic offenses; DWI/DUI; drug charges (from simple possession to possession with intent to distribute and trafficking); gun permit denials; weapons offenses; and property crimes (larceny, breaking and entering, robbery, fraud, embezzlement, white collar offenses); to sexually related offenses (indecent exposure; sexual assault, crimes against nature, removal from sex offender registry); and violent crimes (domestic violence; assault; manslaughter; homicide, murder). Other legal issues that Arnold & Smith, PLLC criminal clients may be facing include restraining orders, restraining order and probation violations, expungements; appeals; and immigration issues related to criminal charges. Our criminal defense attorneys are passionate about ensuring that individuals empower themselves by being informed about their constitutional rights, and stand at the ready to fight in the defense of those facing criminal charges.







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