Traffic Stops Probable cause-desktop-2016_Page_1 Traffic Stops Probable cause-desktop-2016_Page_2

Probable Cause and how it applies in the State of Maryland

There are certain situations where police need a warrant to search you or your property, however during a traffic stop, police only need probable cause to legally search your vehicle. In the state of Maryland A police officer can conduct a traffic stop of a vehicle based on “reasonable articulable suspicion” based on a case called Terry v. Ohio. The Maryland Court of Appeals applied this to traffic stops in the case of Arvel Williams v. Maryland (
Reasonable articulable suspicion is less than full blown probable cause. 

The major exception to the probable cause requirement for vehicle searches is consent. Most vehicle searches don’t occur because police have probable cause. They occur because people get tricked or intimidated into consenting to search requests. Consenting to a search request automatically makes the search legal in the eyes of the law. Unfortunately the 4th Amendment doesn’t require officers to tell you about your right to refuse. To simplify if you are involved in a traffic stop, don’t try to figure out whether or not the officer has probable cause to legally search you. You always have the right to refuse search requests by stating, “Officer, I don’t consent to any searches.”

Police officers who detain motorists for traffic violations typically issue tickets and allow them to proceed. However, if they have probable cause to believe that motorists have committed a traffic offense, police officers have the power to arrest and search motorists (Virginia v. Moore, U.S. Sup. Ct. 2009).There are certain situations where police need a warrant to search you or your property .

Even if they plan only to issue a ticket, police officers can order drivers and any passengers to get out of a car. If police officers “reasonably believe” that drivers or passengers might be carrying weapons, they can conduct a short “frisk” (pat down the car’s occupants) (Maryland v. Wilson, U.S. Sup. Ct. 1998). However, police officers cannot search a car without a warrant based on a traffic violation unless they have reason to believe that the car contains a weapon or evidence of crime that someone other than the driver might dispose of (Arizona v. Gant, U.S. Sup. Ct. 2009). Before telling the driver that a stop has ended, police officers can briefly question the driver and passengers about matters unrelated to the purpose of the stop (Arizona v. Johnson, U.S. Sup. Ct. 2009).

For clarity police officers cannot use traffic stops as a pretext to launch extensive investigations. Unless the police have probable cause to believe that a car or its trunk contains weapons or contraband, the police cannot search a car that has been pulled over for a traffic violation. Similarly, unless police officers have probable cause to believe that a driver or passenger has committed a serious crime; the officers cannot use the stop as a pretext to interrogate the car’s occupants about other possible crimes.

Please visit the following websites for example of different situations: