IJ Is Putting a Stop to Traffic Stop Abuse
When Mario Rosales and Gracie Lasyone were pulled over in Alexandria, Louisiana, they at first gave the police officers the benefit of the doubt. Though the two were certain they had violated no law, they thought the officers might have made an innocent mistake. But it didn’t take long for Mario and Gracie to realize the traffic stop was anything but innocent.
Mario and Gracie quickly realized they were victims of an abusive police practice in which police officers nationwide pull over motorists on the pretext of minor traffic infractions—even if no traffic law was violated—with the actual goal of unconstitutionally searching for evidence of other crimes.
In Mario and Gracie’s case, the officers claimed they pulled Mario over because he failed to use his turn signal. But the officers’ dash cam and body cam footage clearly show the exact opposite: Mario used his blinker. And the officers’ conduct following the stop also belies this claim. After pulling Mario over, the officers ordered him and Gracie out of the car, frisked Mario, and interrogated him and Gracie about a litany of drug crimes, none of which the police had any reasonable basis for believing the two were guilty of.
Unfortunately, this kind of stop-first, justify-later policing is all too common. As IJ’s work fighting civil forfeiture has shown, police departments have a strong incentive to search for evidence of crimes that will allow them to forfeit a driver’s car, cash, or other property—the proceeds of which police departments are often allowed to keep and spend as they wish. No surprise then that police routinely stop drivers for pretextual reasons, even when there is no reasonable suspicion of any crime.
But under the Constitution, nobody should be treated like a criminal without some reasonable basis for believing they’ve committed a crime. The Fourth Amendment promises freedom from unreasonable seizures, including traffic stops. And although the U.S. Supreme Court has held that police officers can pull motorists over for even trivial traffic offenses, they cannot do so based on fabricated crimes. Even when a driver has committed a traffic violation, any investigation must be limited to crimes the police reasonably suspect the motorist to be guilty of—based not on hunches, but on objective evidence.
That is why, represented by IJ, Mario and Gracie have sued the city of Alexandria, its chief of police, and the two officers who illegally stopped them.
Police officers pull over more than 50,000 drivers on a typical day and more than 20 million each year. It is vital that these stops comply with the Fourth Amendment—otherwise our fundamental freedom to go about our business without government interference will disappear. With Mario and Gracie’s case, IJ will make sure that does not happen.
Marie Miller is an IJ attorney.
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