top of page
  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Cmelik Law PLC

Criminal lawyer: ulterior motives for legit traffic stops legal

The American heritage dictionary defines a "pretext" as "[a] reason or excuse given to hide the real reason for something." In a pretextual stop, the stated reason, for example, an equipment violation or a minor traffic violation, masks the unstated reason for the stop which may include the "mere hunch" that someone is involved in criminal activity-- without more evidence that is the case.

On its face, this sounds dishonest. However, both the United States Supreme Court and the Iowa Supreme Court have stated that, objectively, if the stated reason for the stop is legitimate, that is the end of the inquiry.

For example, if an officer has a mere hunch that a driver possesses contraband, but they have no solid evidence this is happening, they might look for a legitimate reason to conduct a traffic stop to further the investigation. Such legitimate reasons include expired registration, equipment violations, and minor traffic violations. Once they have the driver stopped, the officer must have reasonable suspicion to extend the traffic stop beyond that necessary to issue a citation or warning-- but can inquire as to the driver's identity, purpose of travel, point of departure, and destination. Their personal contact with the driver might suggest impairment or the presence of contraband, which is their primary objective.

What this means is that the Courts will not scrutinize officers' ulterior motives for conducting outwardly legitimate traffic stops that ultimately lead to arrests. If the officer, with all her training and experience, possessed probable cause to believe a traffic violation occurred, that is all the Court requires to authorize the "seizure," language that the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution references, for purposes of a traffic stop.

If you or a loved one have been arrested for a criminal offense in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, or other Iowa community, contact us for an initial consultation.

If you or a loved one has been arrested during a pretextual stop in Iowa, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC at 319-389-1889.


bottom of page