Officers are trained to detect possible driving under the influence situations where there is a moving traffic violation, an equipment violation, an expired registration or inspection sticker, unusual driving actions, such as weaving within a lane or moving at slower than normal speed or evidence of drinking or drugs in a vehicle. Based upon these initial observations the officer must develop a “Reasonable Suspicion” that there is sufficient cause to stop a vehicle. With so many justifiable reasons to stop and detain a driver, why is it that law enforcement finds it necessary to exaggerate, fabricate or otherwise make an illegal stop?
In my practice of DUI law in Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, and Marin Counties, where I’ve evaluated close to 1,500 police reports, the majority of illegal stops have been for the following reasons: 1. License Plate lights not in proper working order, 2. Unable to drive within a single lane or driving in a serpentine manner, 3. Failure to signal properly, 4. Not stopping behind the limit line at an intersection, 5. Unable to see license registration, 6. Swerving within the lane, 7. Straddling a lane line, 8. Drifting, 9. Almost striking an object, 10. Inappropriate or unusual behavior, 11. 911 call or other tipster information, and 12. Trailer or tow hitch obscuring the license plate.
Most law enforcement agencies don’t have their vehicles equipped with recording devices and most officers don’t wear body cams. And, where there are such devices they are often not properly used by the officers or the officer do not follow the protocols of their use.
With all of the rage now over beatings of innocent citizens, shooting of unarmed and non-violent citizens where the police behavior was fortunately recorded by a bystander, we are finally turning the tide of sentiment in favor of having all police contact recorded. In the last 3 years, I’ve had the benefit of our California Highway Patrol's use of a Mobile Audio Video Recording System (MVARS) and it has proven to be a tool that has set a lot of illegally detained clients free.