July 5, 2014

Can Color of Vehicle Be Probable Cause In Traffic Stop?

Exclusionary Rule, Probable Cause, Motion to Suppress, Fourth Amendment
Probable Cause Traffic Stop Vehicle Color
A Florida Drug case just answered two questions: 1) Can the Color of a Vehicle be the Probable Cause for a Traffic Stop? 2) Can cops invent creative reasons to pull you over?

Traffic Stop Facts


The case began when the cops were looking for a reason to pull a vehicle over and the driver was not doing anything wrong to justify a legitimate traffic stop to issue a traffic citation or a warning. The cop used his computer system to pull the DHSMV (Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles) records on the vehicle he was following. The record was valid, the registration was valid, the driver and the vehicle were lawfully in operation. One field on the vehicle record described the color of the vehicle. The color of the targeted vehicle did not match. vehicle was stopped, odor of cannabis / marijuana, large quantity of drugs found, driver is arrested and goes to prison.

Can the Color of a Vehicle be the Probable Cause for a Traffic Stop?


Florida Supreme Court says the DHSMV record does not need to match the vehicle color. People are free to paint cars whenever they wish. There is no requirement that car owners report the new color of their vehicle to the state. Conviction overturned.

Can cops invent creative reasons to pull you over?


Florida Supreme Court says police cannot use otherwise innocent conduct to invent reasons for traffic stops. Courts can punish police who engage in such hunting. The punishment will at least be the evidence they have illegally obtained will be suppressed under the Exclusionary Rule. Under the rule, courts will not let police engage in misconduct and then convict and imprison citizens.

Case Excerpts

"To warrant an investigatory stop, the law requires not just a mere suspicion of criminal activity, but a reasonable, well-founded one. Popple, 626 So. 2d at 186 (“[A]n investigatory stop requires a well-founded, articulable suspicion of criminal activity.”). In Terry, the stop was found appropriate because the officer “had observed [three men] go [t]hrough a series of acts, each of them perhaps innocent in itself, but which taken together warranted further investigation.” Terry, 392 ."

"[T]he sole basis here for the investigatory stop is an observation of one completely noncriminal factor, not several incidents of innocent activity combining under a totality of the circumstances to arouse a reasonable suspicion—as was the case in Terry. "

"The discrepancy between the vehicle registration and the color the deputy observed does present an ambiguous situation, and the Supreme Court has recognized that an officer can detain an individual to resolve an ambiguity regarding suspicious yet lawful or innocent conduct. Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 125. However, the suspicion still must be a reasonable one. Popple, 626 So. 2d at 186 (“Mere suspicion is not enough to support a stop.”). In this case, there simply are not enough facts to demonstrate reasonableness." 

"[It] is not against the law in Florida to change the color of your vehicle without notifying the DHSMV."

"The intrusion involved in the instant case is similar to that described in Prouse, especially considering that anyone who chooses to paint his or her vehicle a different color could be pulled over by law enforcement every time he or she drives it."

"We are satisfied that the exclusionary rule will have an appropriate deterrent effect in this case and that none of the exceptions to the rule apply. "