Please bear with me while I state the obvious, or what should be obvious to every police officer who has been through basic training.
When a police officer activates his or her emergency lights and stops a vehicle a seizure occurs. That driver, and all of the vehicles occupants have had their freedom restricted. In Ohio v. Robinette the U.S. Supreme Court calls this a situation where “the motorist is faced with a climate of substantial anxiety” and subject to the protection of the Fourth Amendment.
Amendment IV of the U.S. Constitution: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Although there is no agreed upon “bright line” objective standard, the reasons making traffics stop ‘reasonable’ include:
- Traffic violations
- Investigation of suspected criminal activity
- There is a warrant for an occupant of the vehicle
- Exercising a community caretaking responsibility. This covers situations where an officer has reason to believe an occupant may need assistance or a courtesy issue like an open trunk or an object left on the roof of a car.
A police officer given the authority to restrict another’s constitutionally protected freedom is something that must be exercised very carefully. It is a responsibility that must be taken very seriously.
With that in mind how do you reconcile this…
The fact is, you can’t. No matter how light hearted, good-natured or harmless they may seem, these stops are an abuse of power and they are unlawful. Stop it!