Georgia police provide a valuable service. They work hard, often placing their lives on the line, to serve and protect our society. Sometimes, though, they may get overzealous in their efforts. When police go too far and cross the lines they’re not supposed to cross, innocent people can suffer.
As a result, we need the police to follow the rules as much as they seek to enforce them. Unfortunately, that’s not always how things work, so it’s important to recognize the mistakes police sometimes make. That way defense attorneys can help hold them accountable and protect their innocent clients.
Mistake #1: No reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop
Many arrests start with traffic stops. Police frequently stop drivers and then arrest them for driving under the influence or drug possession. However, the police need to have a reason to stop someone. They can’t just stop anyone they want, anytime they want to.
A traffic stop is only justified if the police have a “reasonable suspicion.” Indeed, in the case of The State v. Walker, the Georgia Supreme Court clarified that the police must have “articulable suspicion” to “seize” a person, even briefly. The Court continued to say that articulable suspicion means having more than a hunch. It means having enough specific evidence that a reasonable person might believe the police had reason to interfere with illegal activity.
Without specific facts that might reasonably point toward illegal activity, the police likely do not have reasonable suspicion to stop someone.
Mistake #2: Illegal searches
The Fourth Amendment protects us from “unreasonable” searches and seizures. This is why police usually need warrants to enter someone’s house and search it. However, the Fourth Amendment doesn’t just apply to houses. It also applies to traffic stops and many other situations.
Police often overstep their limits when they search someone’s vehicle without a warrant, without permission and without probable cause. There are many exceptions to the requirement for a warrant, but they don’t always excuse police behavior. Sometimes police expect they’re conducting a search legally under one of the exceptions, but they’re mistaken.
Mistake #3: Improperly administered sobriety tests
Police need proper training to administer both field sobriety tests and breath tests. When they fail to administer these tests correctly, they can find signs of drunkenness where none really exist.
As a result, it’s important for people facing charges based on these test results to question whether the officer properly administered these tests. Field sobriety tests, especially, demand that officers make subjective decisions about what they observe. This means it’s also important to question whether the officer correctly interpreted what he or she saw.
Mistake #4: No probable cause for an arrest
The police must have reasonable suspicion to stop someone momentarily. But to arrest someone, they need an even stronger reason. Here, they need “probable cause.” Effectively, it means the police need to be able to point to enough specific evidence to argue that it is more likely than not that someone committed a crime.
The police need to present probable cause to a magistrate to receive a search warrant, and they need probable cause to make an arrest.
Importantly, the standard for probable cause is higher than it is for reasonable suspicion. Indeed, the Georgia Supreme Court noted there are three levels of interaction between police and citizens. Momentary detentions, such as traffic stops, are the second level and require reasonable suspicion. Officers often use these temporary stops to look for evidence to support full-scale arrests. This is because full-scale arrests are the third level, and probable cause is the dividing line between temporary stops and full-scale arrests.
Mistake #5: Unlawful interrogation
After the police arrest someone, they must remind them of their Constitutional rights before interrogating them. If you’ve watched crime shows, you likely know about your Miranda rights. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney.
Police sometimes fail to remind people of their rights. They also sometimes fail to respect someone’s decision to invoke their rights.
Meanwhile, the police have a lot of freedom to pursue different tactics in their interrogations. They can even lie. There are some techniques they cannot use. These include torture, drugging, various threats and other types of physical or psychological coercion. Even though these techniques are illegal, the police often toe the line. They may deny someone food or drink, or even the bathroom, for hours before questioning them. It’s important to ask if these interrogations are valid or if they crossed the line.
It’s important to point out police mistakes
Getting stopped by a police officer can be a tense and intimidating experience. Even routine traffic stops for speeding can get your heart racing. In these situations, it’s often hard to stay calm and point out police mistakes. But it’s important to make sure the police are playing by the rules.
The U.S. Constitution and the Fourth Amendment exist to help establish a balance between our freedoms and the government’s need to do its job. Police who push too far are breaking that balance. They’re limiting our freedoms. You may not be able to correct the police in the heat of the moment, but you can remember your rights. You can remain silent and ask for an attorney. Then it’s your attorney’s job to point out any police mistakes and help you receive real justice.