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Traffic Stops in Florida

A traffic stop is the most common reason for contact with a law enforcement officer. According to the BJS Police-Public Contact Survey (PPCS), more than 42% of face-to-face contacts between law enforcement officers and residents occurred because of a traffic stop during 2011. Nearly half of those traffic stops resulted in a traffic ticket. 

In fact, approximately 12% of the nation’s drivers are stopped by the police each year. Stopped drivers reported speeding as the most common reason for being pulled over.

Drivers were searched by the police during a traffic stop about 3% of the time. Police were more likely to search male drivers (4%) than female drivers (2%). A lower percentage of white drivers stopped by police in 2011 were searched (2%) than black (6%) or Hispanic (7%) drivers.

Different types of stops include a routine traffic stop, a high-risk stop, and a sobriety checkpoint.

Attorneys for Traffic Stops in South Florida

The attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. represent clients on traffic citations and for criminal charges after a traffic stop. We understand the tactics used by local law enforcement agencies throughout Broward County, Palm Beach County, and the surrounding areas in South Florida.

Call our attorneys for a free consultation to discuss your traffic ticket or criminal charge at (561) 557-8686. We can begin your defense today. 

What Happens During a Routine Traffic Stop?

Traffic stops constitute a temporary detention which requires only reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred or is about to occur. In this way, most courts have treated traffic stops like stops under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).

When a person is pulled over, the officer will usually initiate the stop by using emergency equipment including overhead rotating or flashing lights and sirens. The police officer usually drivers behind the vehicle as the vehicle pulls over to the right side of the road and comes to a stop. Under certain conditions, if the driver to fails to come to a stop with the intent to flee or elude the officer then the driver can be charged with a felony. 

Procedures Used During a Traffic Stop

The officer will usually greet the driver by explaining the reason for the stop. The officers are training to ask questions to gain an admission of the offense. The officer will then ask the driver for a driver’s license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration. The officer will usually take these documents back to his vehicle to confirm the validity of the information and run the driver’s name through an information center. 

The officer will conduct a check to see if the driver has any outstanding warrants. The officer will then confirm that the driver has a valid driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. The officer can then decide whether to issue a citation or issue a verbal or written warning. For a criminal violation, the officer can physically arrest the driver or issue a notice to appear in court at a later date and release the driver from the scene. 

Florida has enacted laws that require anyone driving on the highway or freeway to merge over to the left as the approach the police officer’s vehicle. By moving over, the other drivers should leave an entire lane open as a buffer zone for the officer.

The High-Risk Stop in Florida

Law enforcement officers also conduct other types of stops including a "high-risk" or felony traffic stop. These types of stops are not based on probable cause that a traffic violation has occurred, but are based on some other suspicion that the driver or passenger has committed a serious crime.

Officers will often wait for additional officers to arrive at the scene to stand by as back-up to ensure officer safety. In some high-risk stops, the officers will approach the driver with their weapons drawn. Officers often rely on their agency’s standard operating procedures ("S.O.P.'s") for conducting both traffic stops and high-risk stops. 

The Supreme Court has held that an officer who stops a vehicle as part of a routine traffic stop has the authority to order the driver to exit the vehicle. Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977); Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408 (1997) (allowing the officers to also order any passengers to exit the vehicle).

Sobriety Checkpoints in Florida

In Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990), the Supreme Court of the United states found that the use of sobriety checkpoints, under circumstances, is constitutional. Although sobriety checkpoints are illegal in twelve states, the courts in Florida have upheld the constitutionality of checkpoints when they are conducted under a pre-established operational plan that is strictly followed in the field. 

As a result of the strict rules which officers often violate in the field, sobriety checkpoints are the most highly contested types of roadside stops. The attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. are experienced with filing and litigations motions to supress evidence gathers as a result of an illegal stop related to a sobriety checkpoint or roadblock.

Additional Resources

Police Behavior During Traffic And Street Stops - This study, published on September 24, 2013, examines traffic and street stops and the public's perceptions of police behavior during these encounters. Find the latest statistics on traffic stops in the state of Florida and throughout the United States. The study describes the outcomes of traffic and street stops by the reason for the stop; whether a ticket was issued, a search was conducted, or force was used. The data in the study was based on the 2011 Police-Public Contact Survey which collects information from a sample of persons in the United States. White drivers were both ticketed and searched at lower rates than black and Hispanic drivers.

Statistics in Traffic Stops - Visit the website of the Bureau Of Justice Statistics (BJS) to learn more about statistical programs, publications, and scholarly articles concerning traffic stops and police contacts. On December 27, 1979, under the Justice Systems Improvement Act of 1979, the BJS was established as the United States' primary source for criminal justice statistics. As a component of the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice, BJS interview more than 135,000 citizens in about 76,000 households about any experiences they may have had as crime victims.

This article was last updated on October 28, 2016.

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