There are many different traffic laws that people in Virginia must follow. There are speed limits, stop signs and stop lights, people need to signal turns, yield in certain situations, drive within their lanes and follow many other laws. There are also laws that require people to ensure that their vehicles are in good working condition. They need to have headlights and taillights that work, the exhaust cannot be too loud, they cannot have objects hanging from their mirrors and other equipment regulations.
Prior to a recent change in the law, police could stop people for any violation mentioned above plus many other types of violations. After they pulled people over, they could then start asking questions and expand the stop to search the vehicle to find evidence of more serious crimes. The stops based on equipment violations are typically known as pretextual stops because the main reason for stopping the vehicle was not the equipment violation, it was because they wanted to search the vehicle.
When police are no longer allowed to stop a vehicle
A new law that went into effect this year changed that though. Police are no longer allowed to stop people if the only basis for the stop is an equipment violation. Additionally, they cannot search the vehicle if the entire basis of the search is that they smelled marijuana in the vehicle. The new law also states that if the vehicle is stopped only for an equipment violation that any evidence the police find in the vehicle must be suppressed and cannot be used to charge people with additional crimes.
The new law is a major change in the law in Virginia and protects many people from pretextual stops. It is important that people understand this new law and understand how they are protected by it. Also, even if the police have a valid basis to stop someone and find evidence of a crime, people still have rights against unreasonable searches of their vehicle. Experienced attorneys understand what police can and cannot do during a stop and consulting with one may be beneficial.