Maryland police have the right to conduct a traffic stop if they reasonably suspect that a crime may have been committed. For instance, if an officer sees that your car’s lights aren’t on, it is likely sufficient cause to pull your vehicle over. However, in some cases, that might simply be an excuse to fish for more serious offenses.
Pretextual traffic stops
According to the Supreme Court, pretextual traffic stops are legal as long as an officer can articulate the original violation. For example, if an officer says that your car’s tag was expired, it may be used as a pretext to search for guns or drugs in the vehicle. Depending on what an officer finds, you may be taken into custody on a felony charge simply for being close to any contraband found in the car even if it doesn’t belong to you.
The consequences of pretextual stops
Claiming that you legally owned a gun or had the right to possess any drugs found in your car may be a valid criminal defense strategy. However, even if you are cleared of the charges, you will still go through the process of being taken into custody. In addition, you may spend several days, weeks or months in jail as your case makes its way through the legal system. This could result in a serious interruption to your life regardless of the fact that you won’t have a criminal record.
If you are charged with a crime, there is no guarantee that you’ll be convicted. In the event that you are cleared of a criminal charge, it may be possible to seal your record. This may make it easier to get a job, find housing or obtain access to federal student loans.