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Arrest During a Traffic Stop

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Generally, arrests require an arrest warrant, and an arrest warrant requires probable cause of criminal activity. However, traffic or vehicle stops often present exceptions to this rule.

Officers have the right to arrest drivers of motor vehicles if they observe the driver violating the law, including minor traffic offenses. Violations can be anything from erratic and reckless driving to the absence of proper taillights. In most typical traffic stop situations, the driver will not be arrested unless several offenses were committed or the officer determines a warrant has previously been issued for the driver's arrest.

Importantly, an arrest allows the officer to legally search your vehicle. Any illegal items discovered, such as drugs, can be used to charge the driver for an additional offense and be admitted into evidence at a trial.

TIP: The officer's motive for arresting you is not in question where an actual traffic violation occurred. She may have only suspected you of criminal activity, but once the violation occurred, you can be detained, placed under arrest and your vehicle searched.

I was pulled over and arrested. What happens now?

Most states require that you be taken to appear before a judge or magistrate in the county where the arrest occurred. In many states, the person you appear before will be the justice of the peace.

TIP: It may be possible to avoid jail in the cases of a misdemeanor arrest. Ask if you can sign the citation or ticket, which by signing you are promising to appear in court on a certain date, and be released.

How long can I be detained in jail before I see a judge?

A reasonable amount of time. Although state laws may require you to immediately appear before a judge or magistrate, officers are allowed a reasonable time to comply. For example, an overnight stay after a late-night arrest is not unreasonable.