In Idaho can a police officer make a traffic stop for any reason he wants?

Technically? No.  Practically?  Pretty much.

For a police officer to stop your vehicle, he or she must have a reasonable articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.  Absent such reasonable articulable suspicion, the officer must not stop your car. If he or she does it is an unlawful stop. Any court will suppress any evidence of a crime that the police officer found after that as ‘fruit of the poisonous tree.’

So that sounds pretty fair and just. The officer must have a lawful reason to stop you.  If not he will not be able to use any evidence he collects when he stops you illegally.  In practice, the legislature and courts have written and interpreted the laws allowing seizure of motor vehicles very broadly. Only the most incompetent officers have a hard time finding a lawful reason to stop your motor vehicle.

Pretextual Stops

Bear in mind, the reason that police give for stopping you may not be the real reason.  This farce is known as a ‘pretextual stop.’  For example, you are driving your car at 2 AM in the morning, and the officer wants to see if you have been drinking.  He can find an unrelated reason to pull you over (e.g. tail light out) just so he can stop you to see if you’ve been drinking.  It is well settled law that pretextual stops are perfectly legal. The officer doesn’t even have to charge you with the pretextual reason he stopped you, and very often they do not.

Traffic Laws

Here are some examples of traffic laws that are frequently used by police officers in pre-textual stops.

Idaho Code 49-808 (Turning Movements and Required Signals):

The Statute

This statute deals with turn signals.  The statute mandates that “On controlled-access highways and before turning from a parked position, the signal shall be given continuously for not less than five (5) seconds and, in all other instances, for not less than the last one hundred (100) feet traveled by the vehicle before turning.”

5 second rule on controlled access highways

Courts have interpreted this to mean that on highways that have exits and on-ramps, you must leave your turn signal on for at least five seconds before making a turning movement. 

5 second rule from parking

This law also applies if you turn from a parked position. For example, if you are turning out from being parallel parked on the side of the street.  If you only signaled for 4 seconds before moving, you have violated the law, and the officer can stop your vehicle. 

5 seconds is longer than you think

Now take out your stopwatch and watch five seconds pass.  Now imagine waiting that long before changing lanes on the freeway. You will quickly see that if an officer wanted to stop you, all he would have to do is follow you long enough to see you make this mistake that so many drivers make.  Sometimes it’s not even a mistake. It’s a necessary maneuver when traffic is changing so quickly.

100 foot rule on all other roads

Next, the statute requires that on all other roadways that you signal for 100 feet before turning.  Now the fact of the matter is in many instances, especially in the city, this is next to impossible.  If you are traveling in slow moving traffic in downtown Boise, it is impossible to wait until you have traveled 100 feet with your turn signal on before changing lanes, or turning.  Again, an officer that wants to stop you only needs to follow you for a few minutes before you will be forced to make this maneuver. Then he will have his lawful basis to stop you.

Idaho Code 49-644 (Required Position and Method of Turning):

You are probably turning wrong

This statute deals with how you should turn your car.  This law is a favorite of police officers. Violation of it is also a common way to drive, and most people do not realize it is illegal.  Again, it is also sometimes necessary if you have an immediate second turn you need to make.

Turning Left

Most driver’s know that when you turn left, you need to turn into the closest lane of travel. Otherwise, you may run into a vehicle coming in the opposite direction which is lawfully turning right. 

Turning Right

However, what drivers don’t realize is, you have to do the same when turning right.  The code requires that ‘Both the approach for a right turn and the right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.’  Courts have interpreted this to mean you must remain in the closest lane to the curb.  If you take a right turn and swing into the lane further from the curb, you violate this statute.  This mistake gives a police officer a lawful reason to pull you over.

Idaho Code 49-637 (Driving on Highways Laned for Traffic)

This law is a very frequently used statute for stopping vehicles, especially if you are out past 2 AM. 

The Statute

The statute requires you to ‘drive as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from that lane until the driver has first ascertained that the movement can be made with safety.’  

Hard law to follow

Follow any car, on any road, day or night, and count how many times it touches one of the lines marking the lanes of travel.  Each time a car touches one of those lines marking the lanes of travel, they have violated 49-637. 

Harder to follow with officer behind you

It doesn’t take very long to make this mistake when an officer is following your vehicle.  It’s even more likely to happen when a police officer is tailing you because you are nervously watching the officer in your rearview mirror. You are bound to let your vehicle drift just enough to touch or cross these lines.  The officer then has the reasonable articulable suspicion he needs to stop your car.

Idaho Code 49-119(19)(Definition of Roadway) and 49-630 (Drive on Right Side of Roadway):

These two codes combine to form a reason similar to the last code discussed.  This combination of codes is used to stop someone for crossing over the ‘fog line’.  Courts have ruled that anything on the other side of the fog line is not the ‘roadway’ as defined in 49-119, and so is a violation of the requirement of 49-630 to always drive on the ‘roadway’.  And so if you touch or cross over the fog line, you have given a police officer reason to stop your vehicle.

Equipment Violations

Equipment Violations are one of the most frequently used reasons a police officer stops a vehicle.  They like these because they are easy to spot, and they are objective.  Credibility really isn’t an issue because the equipment violation can be easily documented.

The following remaining examples are these types of equipment violations.

Idaho Code 49-949 (Requirement as to Fender or Covers Over All Wheels on Motor Vehicles)

This code deals with fenders and mud flaps.  It’s a complicated statute, but it essentially says that a truck has to have mud flaps if the finder is 10” above the roadway when the truck is unloaded.  The Courts have interpreted the word ‘trucks’ to include ‘pickup trucks’.  Consequently even if you have a stock pickup truck, with no lift, if the fender is more than 10” off the road, you need to have a mud flap that makes up the difference.  Saying you purchased the pickup truck that way from the manufacturer is not a defense.

Also this code requires fender flares if you put on after market tires and wheels that extend out past the fender.  If the tires extend out past the fender, then they can stop you for violating 49-949.

If an officer wants to stop you, and he sees a violation of this statute, he will have a lawful basis to stop you.

Idaho Code 49-944 (Standards for Windshields and Windows of Motor Vehicles)

This law covers tinting of car windows and windshields.  It is a complicated statute, with many different technical requirements.  You may want to read it if you have tinting on your window to make sure you are within regulations.  The police will use this as an excuse to stop you.

Idaho Code 49-937 (Mufflers, Prevention of Noise)

Another low hanging fruit for the police to grab at is a noisy muffler.  The reason that this is a violation that the police will often use is because it is hard to quantify how loud your muffler is.  So accusing you of having a loud muffler is a perfect infraction to accuse you of to pull you over, because you will have difficulty proving that it isn’t.

Idaho Code 49-902 (Vehicle Equipment)

This code has made it unlawful to operate a motor vehicle that has equipment that is in an ‘unsafe condition’.  The Idaho Court of Appeals held that a cracked windshield is a condition that makes the vehicle unsafe to drive. (See State v. Kinser, 112 P.3d 845, 141 Idaho 557 (Idaho App. 2005))  Even when the crack is on the passenger side of the vehicle.  So if a police officer sees a cracked windshield, he can stop your vehicle, and it will be a lawful stop.

The police can use this statute in other scenarios as well, such as busted tail lights, and headlights that are burned out.

So next time you hear someone say that the fourth amendment protects American citizens from unreasonable seizures, remember that the Idaho legislature and Idaho Appellate Courts have ensured that almost any stop the officers make will be deemed reasonable.

Speak to an Attorney

If you believe you have been unlawfully stopped and charged with a crime, you will want to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney.  Call us today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your possible defenses.

Boise, Idaho Criminal Defense Attorney

Craig Atkinson is the lead attorney at Atkinson Law Office,
Boise DUI and Criminal Attorneys. It is located at 1087 W River St #290, Boise, ID 83702. You can call him anytime at 208.571.0627.

Ask Craig to review your case.

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