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Last month, an Ohio state trooper faced rebuke for stopping a car by claiming it was dirty. The Ohio Court of Appeals found that there was no legitimate reason for the stop, which happened in 2015. The trooper stated that the car was suspiciously dirty and fingerprints on the trunk looked unusual.

The Licking Country Court of Common Pleas judge viewed dashcam footage and found no proof of the trooper’s claims. The court ruled that the car in question was no dirtier than the other vehicles on the road.

The trial court determined that the trooper had no probable cause to pull over the driver. The traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable seizures.

When can you get stopped?

There are various reasons why an officer can legitimately pull over a driver, which includes:

  • Tailgating
  • Speeding
  • Driving too slow
  • Improper lane change
  • Improper use of left lane
  • Illegal phone use
  • Equipment violations
  • Not wearing a seatbelt
  • Hazardous driving

In addition to these reasons, an officer can pull someone over if they notice questionable activities. However, questionable can be a fairly broad term. An officer will have his or her own perspective of certain circumstances. What they observe may be different than what is happening.

What are your rights?

Getting pulled over can be scary, especially when you have no idea why. It is important to cooperate with law enforcement, regardless of what you may feel. There are certain steps to take when an officer flashes their lights, such as:

  1. Pull into a safe spot. If you are able, pull over to a safe spot. You will want to do so quickly, but do not speed or slam on your brakes. Let the officer know you are pulling to the side by using your blinker.
  2. Stay inside. Refrain from getting out of your vehicle or even taking off your seatbelt. The officer will come to you and let you know next steps. Roll down your window so you can converse with them.
  3. Hand over documentation. Be ready with your license and registration. Avoid asking too many questions or arguing with the officer.
  4. Keep calm, keep quiet. You do have rights. Under the Fifth Amendment, you have the freedom to not say anything. You are able to refuse searches, physical or chemical tests (although not recommended) and any questions beyond the basics. If need be, ask for a lawyer.