Vehicle Stops / Searches
At Phillips & Associates, we help safeguard our clients' civil rights by bringing lawsuits against law enforcement officers and municipalities that abuse their authority during routine vehicle stops and searches. A fundamental individual right, set forth in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, is the freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. If you have been the victim of an unreasonable vehicle stop and search or other police misconduct in New York City, our dedicated civil rights attorneys may be able to help you bring a claim.Vehicle Stops and Searches
Search and seizure law is highly nuanced and complex. “Stops,” also known as detentions, occur when the police require vehicles to pull over, activate their sirens, or otherwise prevent a vehicle from leaving an area. During a stop, you are not under arrest, but you are not free to leave either. In most cases, for a stop to be constitutional under the Fourth Amendment, a police officer must have a reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime or traffic violation, are in the process of committing a crime or traffic violation, or are about to commit a crime or traffic violation. Special rules apply to checkpoint stops. The police officer can also stop your car if he or she believes a passenger has violated the law.
For example, if you swerve erratically through traffic and your passenger is leaning out the window, it probably would be reasonable for the police to stop you. Similarly, if you run a red light, the police would have a valid reason to stop you. The police must be able to articulate the facts that gave them reasonable suspicion to make the stop. A hunch is not enough. A police officer who stops a black or Latino driver based solely on stereotypes about black or Latino drivers is engaging in racial profiling, and this is not considered sufficient cause for a stop in New York.
When can an officer conduct a search of your vehicle? In general, the police cannot search your car in a routine traffic stop, unless they have probable cause to believe you are carrying weapons, contraband, or evidence of criminal activity in the car. “Probable cause” is a higher standard than “reasonable suspicion.” However, the police may search your vehicle if you give consent freely, or if there are exigent circumstances.
An unconstitutional but routine vehicle stop and search may lead to a false arrest, assault and battery, malicious prosecution, or other abuses. The main issue in such cases is whether there was legal justification or probable cause for the police to arrest you. In general, it is prudent to combine all of your civil rights claims, including an unconstitutional stop and search, into one lawsuit.Consult an Experienced Civil Rights Attorney in New York City
If you are subjected to an unconstitutional vehicle stop and search in New York City, you should consult a knowledgeable civil rights lawyer. What you said to the police when you were stopped or when your vehicle is searched is often important to your case. You are entitled to tell the police you would like to remain silent. Moreover, the police cannot arrest you for refusing to consent to a search of your vehicle, although you should be polite and cooperative. At Phillips & Associates, we offer experienced representation for people whose civil rights have been infringed throughout New York City, including in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. Contact us at (212) 248-7431 or through our online form.