Vehicle Stops in North Dakota
A law enforcement officer may stop a vehicle with reasonable suspicion/probable cause. The probable cause needed to stop is less than the probable cause to arrest. An officer may make a vehicle stop or approach an already stopped car with there is a reasonable belief that the driver is in violation of the law. There is no set test for reasonable belief. The courts have interpreted this loosely, and the reasonable cause needed to stop or approach the vehicle is a lower standard than the probable cause needed to arrest.
Officers may take multiple factors into consideration in determining whether or not there is probable cause. The officer may witness suspicious behavior such as swerving, weaving, speeding, parked car in an unusual location, etc. Even violation of minor traffic laws (ex. Changing lanes without signaling, failing to come to a complete stop at a sign, speeding, etc.) is sufficient to justify a stop. An officer may also pull over as a result of a motor vehicle accident.
An officer may also have suspicion based on tips. For example, a layperson may report a description of a vehicle behaving consistently with some of those suspicious behaviors or a gas station attendant may notice that a customer was behaving as though intoxicated and returned to his/her vehicle. If an officer sees a car/person that fits the description, a stop is justified.
The officer does not need to wait for the driver to violate a law or get into an accident in order to stop the vehicle or approach the car. General public policy allows an officer to intervene before any harm arises.
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