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Broken Tail Light Not a Legal Reason to Stop

car old.jpgI keep telling you this, and it bears repeating–this is the United States of America. Supposedly, the most free country on earth. Sometimes it’s hard to notice all this “freedom” when the police are stopping cars for equipment violations, when they should be out catching the bad guys.

Our question of the day goes something like this: if your car has a few things wrong with it, a few items in dis-repair, does that give the government the right to pull you over and issue a ticket? Heck No. Well, sort of no. Let me break this down.

The example of the day is broken tail lights. Imagine that your rear brake light is cracked, and when you brake it emits a “white light” thru the cracks. Does this broken tail light, emitting white light, allow an officer to pull you over, just to give you a warning about the faulty equipment?

No. While it’s true that the Florida Statutes do permit an officer to stop a car when the officer believes that the vehicle is not equipped as required by law (Fla. Stat. 316.610(1)), the Florida Supreme Court held in Doctor v. State that cracked tail lights cannot support a vehicle stop unless said lights created a safety hazard. 596 So.2d 442, 446 (Fla. 1992).

Our Supreme Court’s reasoning is sound, as the police cannot have free reign under 316.610 to pull over every car with an equipment malfunction, as this “would permit officers to stop vehicles for such defects as broken radio antenna or a dent in the passenger door of the vehicle.” Hilton v. State, 961 So.2d 284, 290-291 (Fla. 2007).

The bottom line: Sometimes, you may think, “Gee, that was nice of Mr. Police Officer to pull me over and give me a “warning””–but in reality, that officer probably had no right to pull you over in the first place. A warning is really just the officer’s way of saying “I thought you might have drugs or guns, but since you don’t, I won’t charge you with a bogus infraction”. Now you know.