Illegal Traffic Stops on 4/20

As the saying goes, money goes west and drugs go east. Interstat­­e 80 in Nebraska is patrolled daily by law enforcement looking for contraband. Law enforcement agencies highly publicize efforts to increased drug patrols on and around April 20th, also known as 4/20.

Vehicles with out-of-state license plates traveling through Nebraska may be at higher risk of being pulled over by a deputy sheriff or a state trooper in attempt to search it. Cars from states considered by law enforcement to be “drug origin states” such as California or Colorado are at an even greater risk.

However, the 4th Amendment guarantees freedom from unreasonable search and seizures – including bogus traffic stops.

The validity of a traffic stop depends on whether the officer’s actions were objectively reasonable in the circumstances. One reason law enforcement may pull over a vehicle is for following another vehicle too closely.

Is following too closely a bogus traffic violation?

When assessing whether an individual has been following another vehicle too closely, the law states, “the driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent.” The standard simply being, reasonable and prudent.

An examination of Nebraska case law indicates the statute is vague and provides no clear rule one way or another. We know from State v. Waltz, half a second behind another vehicle is following too close and from State v. Draganescu, that less than one-car-lengths in the rain at 70 mph is also following too close. In Driver’s Education, we are taught the 2-second rule about following to close, but in Nebraska, the Lancaster County Sheriff’s office uses the 3-second rule, the suggested safe distance by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But anyone who has driven on the Interstate knows that in heavy traffic, a 2-or-3 second distance is not sustainable.

So what is a reasonable and prudent following distance?

Perhaps the best standard of reasonable and prudent distance can be derived from the other provisions of the statute itself. Section 60-6, 140(2), (3), (4), and (5) provide guidance in this regard. For instance, subsection (2) provides that the safe following distance for a vehicle towing a trailer, semi-trailer, or another vehicle is someplace between one car length or 100 feet if following another towing vehicle.

Obviously reasonable and prudent depends on the conditions such as the weather, lighting conditions, traffic, and road conditions. Sometimes a driver must speed up or slow down causing a moment of following too closely to avoid committing another traffic violation or worse, causing an accident.

Will my car be searched if stopped on the Interstate for minor traffic violations?

When the Lancaster County law enforcement officer’s stop a car they usually only give a warning ticket for following too close or failure to signal lane change 100 feet ahead of the lane change. The warning ticket is followed by a request to search the car and then the inevitable search with is sometimes legal and sometimes illegal.

The reason for the stop and subsequent search is to search the vehicle for any contraband such marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, guns or excessive amounts of cash. A good criminal defense attorney knows that police will justify a bogus stop and search with a minor traffic violation which may or may not have occurred.

Defending against unlawful traffic stops and searches.

Fortunately, most Nebraska troopers and deputies that patrol Interstate 80 have dash cams that record traffic stops and vehicle searches on the interstate. Criminal defense attorneys get access to the videos and will be able to assess whether police had probable cause to believe the driver committed a traffic violation. In court, the criminal attorney can argue the stop was illegal and all evidence (ex: marijuana) obtained during the illegal stop must be thrown out. If the criminal attorney wins on this issue the case is often dismissed.

If you were illegally stopped on 4/20 and arrested what can you do?

Contact Berry Law’s aggressive drug defense lawyers to fight for you and protect your rights and your future.

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