Police officers have sirens, flashing lights, badges, and handcuffs, so they can pull you over or arrest you whenever they want, right? Wrong. Under the law, people in the United States have rights that protect them from the unreasonable actions of police officers, and officers must act within the confines of the law. However, this does not mean that officers do not abuse their authority and violate the law – and the rights of the public.
When police violate your rights, it can have a significant impact on a subsequent criminal case if you face charges. You should seek help from a criminal defense attorney who can identify whether the police violated your rights at a traffic stop and how to use that violation as part of your defense.
No Justification for a Traffic Stop
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects you from unreasonable search and seizure, which includes unreasonable detention or arrest. Because of this protection, police must have justification to pull you over – specifically, reasonable suspicion that you have violated the law in some way. It could be as simple as failing to signal for a turn, but there has to be some violation. If an officer has no reason to believe you violated the law, the traffic stop itself violates your rights.
Too often, however, officers will act with racial bias or will pull people over late at night on the off chance they may be intoxicated (without observing any signs of impaired driving). Many traffic stops may be unlawful and may violate your Fourth Amendment rights.
Unreasonable Search of Your Vehicle
An officer can conduct a search of your vehicle if they have a search warrant, if they have probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime, or if you consent. You always have the right to deny a search request and if you do so, an officer who stopped you will need to demonstrate probable cause for the search (since they usually will not have a search warrant for a vehicle they just pulled over).
Probable cause is a higher standard than reasonable suspicion and must be based on factual information. Officers cannot simply say they had a hunch you had drugs in the car – they must show reason on which to base their suspicions. If police officers arrest you, they can perform a search incident to arrest, but they cannot search closed compartments of your car or anywhere that would not hold evidence of your offense. You would be surprised how many vehicle searches violate a driver’s rights, and any evidence stemming from the unlawful search should be suppressed.
Failing to Read Your Rights
If police arrest you or simply tell you that you are not free to go, you are considered to be in police custody for the purposes of the law. If police want to ask questions of someone in custody, they must first read the suspect their Miranda Rights. These rights include the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present under the Fifth Amendment. It is a violation of the Constitution if police ask you any questions in custody without informing you of these rights.
Police cannot use force whenever they want to. The law allows officers to use a reasonable amount of force to make an arrest or defend themselves from imminent harm. When determining what amount of force is “reasonable,” officers should consider the circumstances, including:
- The severity of the suspected offense
- The potential threat of the suspect to the community
- Whether the suspect was trying to resist arrest or flee
When the circumstances do not warrant using force – such as when a suspect is not resisting – officers who use force engage in unlawful police brutality.
In recent years, much attention has been focused on the unjustified use of deadly force by police. There are specific circumstances under which police have the right to use force they reasonably know will cause severe or fatal bodily harm. Such circumstances include when a suspect poses the threat of serious harm to the officer, or when a suspect who creates a threat to others is fleeing. Police are not allowed to shoot at someone who is running away if they do not pose a threat. Unfortunately, you only need to read the news to see that officers can use unjustified and unlawful force and deadly force against citizens.
Your Rights after Police Misconduct
If police officers violate your rights, you can seek relief in various ways. First, if you are facing criminal charges after a traffic stop arrest, a skilled criminal defense lawyer can examine how to use any police misconduct as part of your defense. Some examples include:
- If police pulled you over without reasonable suspicion, any information, evidence, or arrests stemming from the traffic stop are unlawful
- If police illegally searched your car, any evidence they found should be suppressed from your case
- If police failed to read your Miranda rights, any answers you gave to their questions should be suppressed
Often, raising constitutional violations can result in the dismissal of your charges. You need an attorney who understands how to identify when police violated your rights.
If you were the victim of police brutality, you have the right to file a lawsuit under federal law, 42 U.S. Code § 1983. You can seek damages for physical injuries, monetary losses, and emotional distress stemming from the brutality. Family members who lose loved ones due to police brutality also have the right to sue for their losses.
At Barnes and Fersten Law, we are committed to upholding the rights of our clients in Knoxville and surrounding areas. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys specialize in identifying instances where police have overstepped their authority, ensuring that any evidence obtained through such violations is challenged in court. Whether it’s a case of an unlawful traffic stop, an illegal search of your vehicle, failure to read your Miranda rights, or an encounter involving police brutality, we are here to provide the legal expertise and support you need.
Attorney At Law, Managing Partner
Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUI, criminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.