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Lawful Stop of Motor Vehicle in Indiana

In order for a police officer to lawfully stop a motor vehicle, as in the case of other types of investigatory stops, the police officer must have had reasonable suspicion that the driver was engaged in illegal activity. The reasonable suspicion standard can be satisfied by the officer’s direct observation of the violation in progress or the standard may be satisfied through conduct that is indicative of the violation. A helpful illustration of this principle may be found in the following scenario:

A police officer, parked in his patrol car along the side of a public road, sees a car traveling at a high rate of speed pass him.  The officer may reasonably suspect that the car is violating the state’s speed limit laws. The officer does not need to prove that the motorist was speeding (i.e. use radar detection) or even think it was probable that the motorist was speeding. If a person of reasonable caution, placed in the same set of circumstances would believe that further investigation was necessary, the officer has sufficient cause to make a stop.

However, the officer must have an objectively justifiable reason to make the stop. For example, a police officer may not stop certain persons, based on their ethnicity and without further evidence, under the suspicion that such person are illegally within the country. Such a rationale is not objectively justifiable. However, if an officer saw and individual driving a motor vehicle who appeared to be underage, regardless of the motorist’s actual age, the officer’s stop of the vehicle would satisfy the reasonable suspicion standard because a reasonably cautious person would have thought that further investigation would be needed to determine if a child was driving a motor vehicle upon the public roadways.

If the investigating officer finds that a crime has been committed, he may decide to arrest the motorist. Generally, Indiana police officers may make an arrest only when they have a warrant for arrest or when the crime or misdemeanor is committed within the officer’s presence. This second case of committing the crime or misdemeanor within the officer’s presence can mean the officer seeing the violation with one’s eyes, hearing the violation (as in the case of public obscenity) or smelling the violation (as in the case of smoking marijuana). The arresting officer must have probable cause to believe that the driver has committed a crime or is in the process of committing a crime. In the case of a DUI, the motorist’s failure of a Field Sobriety Test or chemical test, or his refusal to submit to a chemical test is sufficient probable cause for arrest.


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