A panel of Pennsylvania appeals judges have ruled that police officers cannot initiate traffic stops based only on a sense that something is amiss. The decision was handed down in a case involving a 25-year-old Mechanicsburg woman who was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol following a traffic stop in Cumberland County in November 2018. She was sentenced to a jail term of between three days and six months after a county court judge determined that the traffic stop was justified. The appeals judges overturned that conviction, suppressed any evidence gathered during the traffic stop and referred the case back to county court. The woman is expected to be acquitted.
Suspicious turns lead to traffic stop
The police officer involved was responding to reports of an unauthorized fireworks display when she noticed the woman’s car. She says that she decided to initiate a traffic stop after the car made several unusual turns. The officer told the county court judge that these turns led her to conclude that the woman was attempting to elude her. She says that she was also suspicious because several of the homes in the neighborhood had been burgled.
Officer finds no evidence of burglary
While the traffic stop led to a DUI charge for the woman, it did not uncover any evidence relating to the allegedly illegal fireworks display or the series of home burglaries. The officer admitted in court that the woman did not break any traffic laws prior to being pulled over. The county court judge ruled that the officer pulled the woman’s car over based on a reasonable suspicion. The appeals judges disagreed and ruled the traffic stop unconstitutional.
The legality of traffic stops
When police officers conduct searches or pull vehicles over without the requisite reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is being committed, any evidence they discover is considered fruit of the poisonous tree. If you are charged with drunk driving following a traffic stop, an experienced criminal defense attorney could study the arrest report closely to determine whether or not the police officer involved acted properly. If the traffic stop may have been initiated based on a mere hunch, an attorney could seek to have the charges against you dismissed.