Reasonable suspicion to stop vehicle even if you’re NOT committing a crime? Civil Traffic Violation!

Kimberly Meadows appeals the district court’s denial of her motion to suppress evidence obtained during a traffic stop, arguing that the officer’s stop was unreasonable because it was based on probable cause of a Utah equipment violation and the state has decriminalized such violations. For
the reasons discussed below, we reject her argument and conclude that the officer’s stop was reasonable regardless of whether Utah has decriminalized such violations. Accordingly, we affirm the district court.

  1. As the Supreme Court explained in Whren v. United States , traffic stops are unique: “As a general matter, the decision to stop an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a traf ic violation has occurred.” 517 U.S. 806, 810, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 135 L.Ed.2d 89 (1996)
  2. Moreover, since Whren the Supreme Court has not suggested that there is any distinction between civil and criminal traffic infractions for Fourth Amendment purposes.
  3. But Meadows overlooks the statute’s explicit language providing that an equipment violation “is an infraction.” § 41-6a-1601(7) (emphasis added).
    And Utah law permits a driver to avoid that infraction if he or she “obtains a safety inspection, emissions inspection, or proof of repair, as applicable,” within 14 days. § 53-8-209(3). In other words, it is not that a driver has not
    committed an infraction until the 14 days have passed; rather, the driver has committed an infraction unless he or she obtains inspection or
    repair. Thus, an officer can develop probable cause of the infraction before the 14-day period has elapsed.

Full case here: United States v. Meadows 970 F.3d 1338 (10th Cir. 2020),

Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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