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Can police pull you over for looking nervous?

Cops pull drivers over for many reasons in North Carolina but a recent case sparked a debate over cops being able to pull someone over for appearing nervous.

This case sounds strange but is it legal? The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled no. The court ruled that police are not able to stop a vehicle just because the occupants appear to be nervous. The judges said that they didn't think police officers would be able to tell if a driver or passenger were nervous and that any evidence obtained from the traffic stop should have been suppressed in the case against the defendant.

The Court of Appeals ruling stems from a speed trap on Interstate 40 in North Carolina. The police claim that the vehicle slowed down while driving through the speed trap and when the police officers drove up next to the vehicle, both the driver and passenger looked "nervous" and did not look at the officers. While driving by the police, the police claim that the vehicle crossed the fog line and was driving slow so they pulled the vehicle over for an "unsafe movement."

During the traffic stop, the driver was issued a warning. The driver consented to a search where the officers claim they found a revolver and rifle that belonged to the passenger. The search led to the passenger later being found guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

After the passenger was found guilty, the case was appealed. In addition to the Court of Appeals stating that they did not think police can tell when someone looks nervous, the judges said that the police officers did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle, which led to the search and seizure and firearm possession charge against the passenger.

The judges said that the passenger's lawyer should have had the evidence from the traffic stop suppressed, which would have most likely led to the charges being dismissed against the passenger. The judges said that the passenger's defense counsel was not effective and ordered that he receive a new trial to allow a motion for the evidence to be suppressed.

This case is an example of the ways illegal search and seizures can lead to very serious charges or convictions. Individuals accused of illegal activity should consult a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss their case.

Source: The Newspaper, "North Carolina: Driving While Nervous is Not a Crime," Dec. 26, 2012

Our law firm represents individuals charged with criminal offenses. To learn more about our law firm, please visit our criminal defense page.

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