In March of 2021, Virginia enacted a new law that prohibits officers from stopping drivers for certain minor traffic violations.
Some Virginians worry that the new measure may have a negative impact on public safety. However, those who support the law believe it may help to prevent police officers from using minor infractions as a pretext for potentially unlawful searches.
What types of traffic stops does the law prohibit?
With the passage of the bill, it is no longer lawful for officers to stop a vehicle for the sole reason that it:
- Lacks brake lights, taillights or a high-mount stoplight
- Lacks license plate illumination
- Lacks an exhaust system or has an excessively noisy exhaust system
- Has certain items hanging inside
- Has certain shading materials or tinting films on windows
What does the new law mean for drivers?
Law enforcement officers may only perform a vehicle stop if they have reasonable suspicion that the driver is or has committed a crime or traffic violation. Unfortunately, officers sometimes use relatively trivial offenses to force a vehicle search, even if they do not have a clear reason to suspect criminal behavior.
However, under the new law, police officers may no longer use the infractions listed above as the sole reason for a traffic stop.
If an officer does make a traffic stop based solely on one of these minor offenses, the evidence he or she discovers or gathers during the stop may not be admissible in court, even if obtained with the driver’s consent.