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Reasonable Suspicion New Jersey

Police often use a motor vehicle stop, also known as a detention, to assess a driver’s condition and to search for traffic violations that may result in DWI prosecutions. The officer must follow criminal procedure laws in order to make a permissible stop. If an officer conducted a motor vehicle stop that led to your DWI case, New Jersey DWI lawyer Steven Hernandez may be able to develop a legal strategy that challenges the lawfulness of the detention.

An officer cannot make a motor vehicle stop when there is no reason to do so—for example, an officer cannot pull over a car to only check the driver’s license and registration. Accordingly, many officers claim they initiated detentions because they personally witnessed traffic violations. The legal standard for stopping a car based on a traffic violation comes from the United States Supreme Court case of Delaware v. Prouse (1979).

According to Prouse, police must have an “articulable and reasonable suspicion” that the motorist has participated in unlawful activity. For example, an officer may stop a car if the officer objectively believes that the driver is unlicensed or does not have a properly registered vehicle. An officer may also pull over a car due to suspicions or observations of other unlawful conduct. Without a reasonable suspicion of unlawful activity, the officer does not have the basis to make a lawful stop. The officer does not, however, need to meet the legal standard of “probable cause.” The probable cause standard applies when the officer makes an arrest but not when the officer initiates a motor vehicle stop.

Police, DWI lawyers, and prosecutors often disagree regarding whether a motor vehicle stop met the standard of reasonable suspicion. Officers sometimes make mistakes due to a need to quickly assess the facts at hand. When an officer has misapplies those facts in order to make a traffic stop, a New Jersey DWI lawyer may be able to argue that even a good faith stop, if based on a mistaken assessment of facts, does not excuse the officer from following the reasonable suspicion standard. In these situations, an improper, unlawful stop may weaken the state’s DWI case against you.