At one point or another, just about everyone has driven with a burned out tail light, a broken brake light or has failed to use their turn signal while changing lanes. Generally police won’t stop you for these infractions, but if they do, the infraction alone isn’t enough to justify a police search or a breathalyzer. Here’s what you should know.
Is a Broken Tail Light a Crime?
Driving with a broken tail light is technically illegal, but there are three levels of crimes –infractions, misdemeanors and felonies. Infractions are the least serious of these crimes and are only punishable by a fine. And, in fact, driving with a broken tail light is the least serious type of infraction as it is considered a correctable violation, aka a “fix-it-ticket.” This means that if you correct the issue and have it signed off by a law enforcement officer, you only need to pay a small court fee and then it will stay off of your driving record completely.
So Can You be Searched for an Infraction?
While police can stop you for an infraction, that doesn’t provide them enough reasonable suspicion to detain you further. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be searched legally. Once a police officer has pulled you over, if she sees drugs in plain sight in your car, smells alcohol on your breath or believes your behavior indicates you are under the influence, that will provide her with the reasonable suspicion to either search your car or ask you to perform field sobriety tests, which may include an optional hand held breathalyzer.
Unfortunately, there are a great many things that a police officer can use as reasonable suspicion. If you don’t believe the police officer had reasonable suspicion to search your car or detain you, be sure to give your attorney all the details you possibly can regarding your arrest.
What to Do When Stopped for an Infraction
If your are stopped for any reason, including a simple infraction, do not talk to the police. You may thank them if they let you know that your tail light or headlight is out, but refuse to answer any questions aside from those relating to your identity or to discuss things further. You must provide the officer with your license, insurance and registration, but do not voluntarily agree to a search of your car or agree to submit to a handheld breathalyzer or a field sobriety test. If the officer pushes you to say any more than that, tell her that you are invoking your the Fifth Amendment right to silence.
Anyone who believes their rights were violated during a traffic stop is advised to write down all details related to the event and then call an attorney as soon as possible. Peter M. Liss offers free initial consultations and accepts all major credit cards. Please call (760) 643-4050 at any time, day or night to schedule an appointment.
Creative Commons Image by Michael Brown