The 4th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States provides individuals with the right against unreasonable search and seizure by government officials, which includes law enforcement officers. Police cannot simply detain you for any reason whenever they wish to do so and, instead, must generally obtain an arrest warrant to “seize” you. There are some important exceptions to the warrant requirement, the most common of which is when you are driving a vehicle.

If you are driving a vehicle, police can pull you over for a traffic stop without a warrant, though they still do not have the right to pull anyone over without reason or for prejudicial reasons. Instead, the law requires them to have reasonable suspicion that you have committed or are currently engaged in some type of criminal activity. If no reasonable suspicion exists, the traffic stop is unlawful as it violates your constitutional rights. If you believe your rights have been violated, you should discuss your situation with a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

What constitutes reasonable suspicion?

The reasonable suspicion aspect is fulfilled in most cases by the officer witnesses a driver violating a traffic law and engaging in speeding, running red lights, or similar activity. Additionally, if an officer pulls someone over on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they usually fulfill reasonable suspicion by claiming they saw a driver swerve or show other signs of impaired driving.

In many cases, however, an officer will claim that they witnessed signs that you had broken the law when, in fact, they did not and they simply wanted to pull you over. This can be because you look out of place, because it is late at night, due to unlawful racial profiling, or simply because they are hoping to find something for which to issue a citation. Such a traffic is against the law and any evidence or arrest that results from such a stop is also unlawful. Dashboard cameras can often help to demonstrate that there was no indication you broke the law prior to your traffic stop. If there was no camera, it may become your word against the officer’s and it is imperative that your have a highly experienced attorney defending your rights.

Was the search of your vehicle legal?

In order to search your vehicle, officers must have probable cause that evidence of a crime exists inside your vehicle, which is a higher standard than reasonable suspicion. This commonly occurs when officers claim they smell marijuana coming from the car and believe there are drugs present. Even if they simply mention marijuana and you seem at all nervous, police may try to use that as justification for a search.

However, law enforcement officers perform unlawful searches on a regular basis, which they later try to justify. They may claim that the contraband they found was in plain sight when it was truly in a compartment that was illegally searched. In such cases, any evidence found by officers should be excluded from any case against you. In many cases, the evidence found in a vehicle—such as drugs—is the primary evidence against you. Once that evidence is excluded, the prosecutor will not have much of a case and the charges against you may likely be dropped.

The legal concepts of “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause” are complex and subjective. What constitutes a valid search or seizure can vary from one situation to the next based on your circumstances. For this reason, you should always have an experienced attorney with a thorough understanding of criminal law and procedure evaluate your case and stand up for your rights in court against any criminal charges you may be facing.

Call a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney as soon as possible

If you have been arrested, you should immediately call a highly experienced criminal defense lawyer to begin working on your case. An attorney can recognize when your 4th Amendment rights have been violated and can use such violations to challenge the validity of your traffic stop, you arrest, and any subsequent charges you may face. If you are in custody, it is further important to have an attorney present whenever law enforcement officers wish to ask you any questions. At The Zeiger Firm, we know how to aggressively protect your rights and defend against charges so that you can obtain the most favorable result possible in your case. Please call our office as soon as possible at 215-546-0340 to discuss your case today.


Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.