Statistics from the Stanford Open Policing Project indicate there are over 50,000 police traffic stops in the United States on an average day. These stops are the most common type of interaction between road users and law enforcement.
So, under what circumstances can police officers execute a Minnesota traffic stop, and how should you respond if you get pulled over while driving?
Can Police Pull You Over for No Reason?
Minnesota police cannot subject you to a traffic stop on a whim. They must have reasonable suspicion that you are committing a crime, or that you’ve committed one already.
When it comes to traffic violations, reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing may arise in a number of ways. Some of the following are common reasons why an officer might pull you over:
- Moving violations, such as speeding, improper lane changing, or failure to stop at a red light,
- Non-moving violations, like failure to wear a seatbelt, non-functioning lights on your vehicle, or failure to properly display license plates,
- Some irregularity with your vehicle, such as an open trunk,
- A sighting of drugs, weapons, or another form of legally restricted item inside your vehicle.
It’s important to note that different police forces throughout Minnesota have different approaches to traffic stop requirements. In Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey announced in August 2021 that police would no longer pull vehicles over for minor infractions like expired license plates.
Is Probable Cause Necessary for a Minnesota Traffic Stop?
Probable cause (the reasonable basis for believing a crime has occurred) is the legal standard law enforcement officers must meet before they arrest you, search you, or enter your home. This standard does not apply to basic traffic stops; officers may pull you over without establishing probable cause. In order to take the matter further, such as by searching your vehicle or placing you under arrest, they must find probable cause during the stop.
For example, an officer may pull you over for erratic driving. Having spoken to you and performed field sobriety tests, they may then determine there is probable cause to believe you are driving drunk and place you under arrest.
Probable cause is a more demanding standard than reasonable suspicion.
How to Respond When You Get Pulled Over
As soon as you see emergency lights in your rearview mirror, you should look for a safe place to pull over. Once your vehicle is stopped at the roadside, remain inside and wait for the officer to approach you. Don’t get out of your vehicle, as this may be perceived as an aggressive movement. If the stop occurs at night, it’s a good idea to switch on your car’s internal lights as this will allow the officer to see there are no concealed threats in your vehicle.
You should cooperate with all the officer’s requests in a polite manner, even if you’re intimidated or irritated by the traffic stop. If asked to exit your motor vehicle, exit the vehicle in an orderly fashion. If you believe you’ve received unfair treatment, the time to take issue with it is later (when you have the assistance of a lawyer), not at the roadside.
Remember, officers should tell you why they stopped you when they come to your vehicle. If they fail to do so, ask about the reason for the stop.
When to Call a Minnesota DWI Attorney
If you’ve been charged with a DWI or another driving offense and you feel you may have been treated unfairly during the Minnesota traffic stop that led to the charge, a lawyer may be able to help you express your concerns to the authorities, potentially helping your case. Contact us today to schedule a free initial case consultation.