What you should know about traffic stops in Indiana

Law enforcement is bound to strict rules regarding legal procedure during a traffic stop, and violating a person’s rights can lead to unlawful arrest.

Drivers in Indianapolis, Indiana, are bound by traffic laws in order to preserve safety on the roadways. Violating these can result in a ticket, but law enforcement must follow strict procedure during any routine traffic stop.

Every driver has constitutional rights that prevent unreasonable search and seizure, and if the stop leads to an arrest, the way that the officer performs the traffic stop can have a bearing on the outcome of the situation.

What is legally allowed in a traffic stop?

Police Chief Magazine points out that the first responsibility of the official is to perform the duties associated with the stop in the correct manner, or the results of any following activities may be compromised. The permissible procedures in carrying these duties out include the following:

• Investigating license status

• Running vehicle registration

• Performing sobriety check

• Checking for outstanding warrants

In addition, the officer can request passenger identification, as well as ask questions that are not relevant to the traffic stop.

If the officer has a reasonable suspicion that vehicle occupants may be armed, he or she can search the cabin for a weapon and/or pat down the driver and passengers.

When does a traffic stop become illegal?

The officer who stops a vehicle must have reason to believe that there was a traffic violation, and as long as that violation is valid, law enforcement may investigate another violation if the driver acts in a suspicious way. For example, a driver who seems particularly nervous may prompt a search of the glove box or trunk. However, a search is illegal if it is performed based on discrimination because of factors such as a person's race, religion, ethnicity or country of origin.

A person cannot be detained longer than is necessary for an officer to complete duties directly relating to the violation unless there is a cause to investigate further that is justifiable in court.

According to the United States Courts, a drug dog may be walked around the outside of the vehicle during a stop. However, the driver cannot be detained unreasonably. Once a warning or ticket has been issued for the traffic violation and the license has been returned, the officer cannot delay the driver further.

Can officers use checkpoints?

When there is a crime on a highway, law enforcement can set up checkpoints so that officials can request information, although inquiries must be brief. Checkpoints may not be used specifically to investigate for drugs, but they may be set up to apprehend drunk drivers.

An officer may require a person to provide his or her driver's license at a checkpoint, according to Indiana statutes. However, Fairdui.org points out that there is no law that states the driver must put down the window and talk to law enforcement. Instead, a flyer stating the pertinent statutes, the refusal to speak and the desire to talk to an attorney can be shown.

A driver who believes his or her rights have been violated by an officer conducting a traffic stop may benefit from the advice of a criminal defense attorney who is familiar with state and federal law, including recent court decisions that may have a bearing on the case.