Can a police officer pull me over for DUI for my third tail light being out? 60 Answers as of July 03, 2013

I was pulled over after a cop followed me from a bar. I went three blocks when he lit me up with his red and blue lights over a block away from me and said he pulled me over for my third tail light being out which he even said isn't needed. Then he asked if I had been drinking and the rest is history. Is this a legal stop? I was never issued a fix it ticket for the light.

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Law Office of Thomas A. Medford, Jr., PC
Law Office of Thomas A. Medford, Jr., PC | Thomas A. Medford, Jr.
Based on the fact that you provided this was a legal stop. The question of whether the stop was motivated for other reasons and whether it so offended the tender sensitivities of the community so as to result in jury nullification will up to the jury.
Answer Applies to: District of Columbia
Replied: 12/27/2011
Reza Athari & Associates, PLLC | Seth L. Reszko
Yes. The police officer can stop you for a traffic violation and then develop a basis to arrest you if he or she smelled or saw alcohol or based upon your behavior.
Answer Applies to: Nevada
Replied: 12/14/2011
Edward  D. Dowling IV Attorney at Law
Edward D. Dowling IV Attorney at Law | Edward D. Dowling IV
I would need further information to answer better but he may have had a valid reason to stop you even if it is true that do not need that taillight.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 12/7/2011
Glass Defense Firm
Glass Defense Firm | Jason M. Glass
While technically you do not need your third tail light, it is considered defective equipment if you have one and it is not functioning.
Answer Applies to: West Virginia
Replied: 12/6/2011
Cynthia Henley, Lawyer
Cynthia Henley, Lawyer | Cynthia Henley
That kind of "pretext" stop happens all the time. In the past, pretext stops were illegal but no longer as long as the purported violation is true. You definitely need a lawyer.
Answer Applies to: Texas
Replied: 12/5/2011
    Cornish, Crowley, Rockafellow, & Sartz, PLLC
    Cornish, Crowley, Rockafellow, & Sartz, PLLC | Jacob Peter Sartz IV
    I'd recommend you retain a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the court may appoint you a lawyer payable at the public's expense. If you need specific legal advice for your particular circumstances, you should privately consult with a lawyer. Speaking generally, if the police have reasonable suspicion to suspect a moving violation is occurring, they may conduct a traffic stop. However, in certain situations, if the stop was not conducted properly, the defense may file a motion to suppress any evidence obtained during the stop. It depends on the circumstances.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 12/1/2011
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser | Phillip L. Weiser
    It would seem on the surface that the reason for the stop is not valid. This may be the cause of a suppressing hearing and may result in the dismissal of the charges. You will need an attorney to do this.
    Answer Applies to: Kansas
    Replied: 12/1/2011
    Reeves Law Firm, P.C.
    Reeves Law Firm, P.C. | Roy L. Reeves
    As you describe it; yes it is a legal stop.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 12/1/2011
    Connell-Savela
    Connell-Savela | Jason Savela
    A quick review of 42-4-208 and 42-4-215 appears to say that only 2 stop signals are necessary. So, I would think this stop is illegal. The local code may be different. I can see an argument for the prosecution point of view, but I think it is wrong. Cops do not know everything and in this case, you are probably right.
    Answer Applies to: Colorado
    Replied: 12/1/2011
    Law Office of Geoffrey M. Yaryan
    Law Office of Geoffrey M. Yaryan | Geoffrey M. Yaryan
    It would be a legal stop only if you are required to have a "third" tail light.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 12/1/2011
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C.
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C. | Craig Elhart
    If the light being out is a violation of the motor vehicle code, then he had probable cause for the stop. You should seek out advise from an attorney as there may be a defense to the matter.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 12/1/2011
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh | Jeff Yeh
    It may not have been, but it all depends how good your lawyer is. You should hire a DUI specialist to file a 1538.5 motion to challenge the legality of the stop.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 12/1/2011
    Law Office of Jared Altman
    Law Office of Jared Altman | Jared Altman
    Yes. The stop was legal.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    The Short Law Group, P.C.
    The Short Law Group, P.C. | Shawn Kollie
    Answer: Because Oregon has adopted the FEDERAL MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY STANDARDS through the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles, it is likely that a 'high-mounted stop lamp' is required under Oregon law. Specifically the FMVSS states, "S5.5.4 The stop lamps on each vehicle shall be activated upon application of the service brakes. The high-mounted stop lamp on each vehicle shall be activated only upon application of the service brakes." However, this does not mean the case is an entire loss and you should not fight.
    Answer Applies to: Oregon
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg | Eric Sterkenburg
    An officer has to have reasonable cause to stop a person. Your third tail light out is reasonable cause for this stop. This is not the real reason for the stop but cops do this all the time.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Law Office of Michael Bialys THE DUI MAN
    Law Office of Michael Bialys THE DUI MAN | Michael Bialys
    You may have a good argument against a lawful stop here.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 2/22/2012
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr. | Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    Think stop was legal as cop can stop you for malfunctioning equipment. I think that light is required.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Fitzpatrick, Mariano, & Santos, PC
    Fitzpatrick, Mariano, & Santos, PC | Raymond J. Savoy
    The police can legally stop you for any motor vehicle violation. The police do not need to issue a ticket for the original reason you were stopped.
    Answer Applies to: Connecticut
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Law Office of Christopher G Humphrey PC | Christopher G Humphrey
    Yes, in Wyoming, that constitutes reasonable suspicion.
    Answer Applies to: Wyoming
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Timothy J. Thill P.C.
    Timothy J. Thill P.C. | Timothy J. Thill
    In Illinois, the high mount brakelight is not mandated, and therefore is not unlawful if it is out. If given no tickets for other violations, I would say there was no reason for the cop to stop yoou. Hire a good defense attorney, have him file a motion to quash the arrest, and hopefully, the judge will grant it, throwing out the case.
    Answer Applies to: Illinois
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law | Jules Fiani
    Yes.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 6/2/2013
    Mark Thiessen, Attorney at Law
    Mark Thiessen, Attorney at Law | Mark Thiessen
    They wrap the ticket into the DWI. You don't need 3 tial lights and the case law is behind you. Hire a DWI trial attorney in your area and fight this with everything you got.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Andersen Law PLLC
    Andersen Law PLLC | Craig Andersen
    Technically a cop can make a traffic stop for an equipment violation. In other words, if you have any broken light lens or anything hanging down from your vehicle. However it is unlawful for a police officer to pull you over for an infraction with the intent to investigate you for something else. From his first question, it appears that the officer used the equipment violation as a pretext to investigate you for DUI. Hire a good DUI defense attorney and ask the attorney to file a CrRlJ 3.6 motion.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Gary Moore, Attorney at Law
    Gary Moore, Attorney at Law | Gary Moore
    A judge might find the stop to be illegal.
    Answer Applies to: New Jersey
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Dunnings Law Firm
    Dunnings Law Firm | Steven Dunnings
    Yes. A cop can almost always find a reason to stop you.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Law Office of Michael R. Garber
    Law Office of Michael R. Garber | Michael R. Garber
    Whether it's a legal stop depends on whether the third light (which is a brake light only) is required by state law and is considered defective equipment if it doesn't work.
    Answer Applies to: Louisiana
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Law Office of Richard Williams
    Law Office of Richard Williams | Richard Williams
    A police office may pull over someone for an equipment failure and then explore any other reasons that he may arrest and the rest normally becomes history. It is surprising howoften police officers find equipment failure violations in the vicinity of where patrons are leaving bars.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Law Office of Ronald Aronds, LLC
    Law Office of Ronald Aronds, LLC | Ronald Aronds
    I would have to review all of the evidence, but you may have a legitimate claim for an unlawful stop whcih you can then use to bring a motion to dismiss the DWI as well. The cops don't have to issue all the tickets they feel they could have.
    Answer Applies to: New Jersey
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    The Law Office of Kevin O'Grady
    The Law Office of Kevin O'Grady | Kevin O'Grady
    It is possible that other attorneys may miss this or not argue it and a good number of attorneys may just want to plead you out. Arguing the basis of the stop, and properly investigating the stop, is something you will get if you hire an aggressive attorney who is committed to not pleading you out. You mentioned "the rest is history". Don't assume that everything else was done properly and is sufficient to prove the government's case. The circumstances of the questions, the answers, the later testimony, the reports, how the FSTs were done and a wide variety of other items can be attacked. Frequently the police and the criminal justice system make a lot of mistakes. If you are serious about fighting the charge, hire an attorney who won't plead you out. Ask an attorney you visit with, in the past six months how many first time DUis have you plead out? The answer you are looking for is zero.
    Answer Applies to: Hawaii
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Nichols Law Firm
    Nichols Law Firm | Michael J. Nichols
    In Michigan, the statute requires a red tail-light that can be seen form 500 feet.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Hammerschmidt Broughton Law
    Hammerschmidt Broughton Law | Mark A. Broughton
    Based on what you have said, the stop seems very questionable. I don't know, though, what you mean by "third tail light." The officer can stop you for a valid vehicle code violation. If it was a brake light, turn signal, back-up light or tail light that was out, then he may stop your car to issue you a citation. But he cannot stop you for no reason or because he is going on a fishing trip. This may come as a surprise but nowadays it is not uncommon for law enforcement to place undercover officers inside of bars. They will watch folks drinking and notify officers outside to be aware of someone coming out of the bar they think may have had too much to drink. Then as the person leaves the parking lot, his car is stopped by a patrolman. Most of the time, the stop is based on some violation to justify it - such as speeding or a bad turn, or even weaving. Then the arrest is validly based on probable cause. But in your case, you just might have something to go on. When arrested for a DUI you will not also be given a separate ticket for an equipment violation. But you should contact a good criminal defense attorney who can evaluate the situation and bring a motion to suppress the evidence.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Jason Overton, Attorney at Law
    Jason Overton, Attorney at Law | Jason Overton
    To answer your question, no, you can't get a DUI for a tail light being out. But you can get a DUI if an officer finds out that you're impaired after he pulls you over for a tail light being out. Chances are, he figured that you were DUI if you had just left the bar. The missing tail light was just the excuse that he needed to pull you over.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Robert Mortland
    Robert Mortland | Law Office of Robert Mortland
    Yes. He can pull you over for this.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Law Office of Brendan M. Kelly
    Law Office of Brendan M. Kelly | Brendan M. Kelly
    If the third light is the one in the middle, usually the upper part then it may be a suppressible stop. You have to have two lite and the middle one is not included. Did they ticket you for the light being out?
    Answer Applies to: Nebraska
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Freeborn Law Offices, P.S.
    Freeborn Law Offices, P.S. | Steve Freeborn
    Absolutely he can. All an officer needs to do to pull you over is to have "probable cause". Defective equipment on a person's automobile is the underlying basis for many stops, especially late at night, because there is a very strong likelihood that the driver may be DUI. Since the stop was legal (based upon what you have told me), I suggest that you retain an attorney. A DUI conviction carries with it some very serious and long term consequences.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Law Office of Robert Sisson | Robert Sisson
    Yes. Police only need reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation has occurred, about to occur or that their is an equipment violation, to have reason to stop you. However, a good attorney certainly can help, if the reason for the pull over is a STRETCH.
    Answer Applies to: Wisconsin
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Pascher Law Firm
    Pascher Law Firm | Sonia Pascher
    It depends. At what time were you pulled over? If it was dark and the tail light was out, then yes. That is probable cause to pull you over, and if the officer had reasonable suspicion to believe that you were under the influence he would have conducted an investigation.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Law Office of Daniel K Martin
    Law Office of Daniel K Martin | Daniel K Martin
    I have to ask, was the light out? If the vehicle was equipped with the light when it came from the factory then it must be in working order. You can be stopped and cited for it if it is not working. So the stop was legal if the light was not functioning. The fact that you were not cited for the light being out does not affect the legality of the stop. People have made that argument before and the court replies 'Ok, then the prosecutor will add an allegation for the light being out.' They do not consider the stop to be illegal. Make sure you speak to a criminal defense lawyer to discuss your case. There may be other things about your case that could be helpful for you.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Austin Legal Services, PLC
    Austin Legal Services, PLC | Jared Austin
    Police can usually pull you over if there is anything not in proper working order on your car including taillights. Since they followed you for three blocks before pulling you over, you could possibly argue that it was a "pretext stop" which are usually not allowed. You need an experienced criminal attorney review the police report to give you a more accurate answer. Don't agree or plea to anything until consulting with an attorney first.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Thomas C. Brandstrader Attorney At Law | Thomas C. Brandstrader
    Yes it is a legal stop.
    Answer Applies to: Illinois
    Replied: 5/31/2013
    Law Offices of Scott C. Athen | Scott Carl Athen
    If the third tail light (or center brake light) is COMPLETELY out, then there may be enough Reasonable Suspicion to initiate a stop. Including the initial stop, there are numerous other potential issues that may be defenses. You really need to speak with an attorney who is well-versed in DUI law.
    Answer Applies to: Maryland
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Law Office of William S. Smith
    Law Office of William S. Smith | William S. Smith
    Chapter 90, Section 7 of the Massachusetts General Laws states, in relevant part: "Every motor vehicle and trailer so operated shall be equipped with two rear lights mounted one at each side of the rear of the vehicle so as to show two red lights from behind." Therefore, if the two main rear lights (i.e. the ones mounted at each side in the rear) of your vehicle were illuminated as the statute requires, but the third (presumably one mounted near the rear roof) was not, you are nevertheless in compliance with the statute and there is a very good argument that the officer had no lawful right to stop you (assuming, of course, that the officer had no other grounds with which to lawfully stop you like the allegedly erratic operation of your car, speeding etc) You should retain an experienced criminal defense attorney right away to fight this vigorously in court. He can prepare, file and litigate a motion to suppress evidence based on these grounds which, if allowed, would result in your case being dismissed.
    Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    DeVito & Visconti, PA
    DeVito & Visconti, PA | John E DeVito
    The police have the right to stop a motor vehicle for a moving violation or for an equipment violation. In the scenario you presented the police will argue that they stopped you for an equipment violation. Because no citation was written relative to the equipment violation and because the light in question is not listed in Chapter 90 section 7 of Massachusetts Gen. laws there is a probability that you may be able to vacate the stop. Your attorney will probably file a Motion to Suppress the Stop. If the stop is suppressed or vacated then the charge of operating under the influencewill be dismissed. If the motion to suppress fails then your only alternative will be to fight the drunk driving case.
    Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Charles Regan Shaw, PLC
    Charles Regan Shaw, PLC | Charles R Shaw
    Yes.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 5/31/2013
    Shane Law Office
    Shane Law Office | Robert J. Shane
    Sounds like you may have a basis for challenging the legality of the police stop of your car. Equipment violations do provide a valid basis for a police stop. A tail light out is a common reason for a stop but if you car was in compliance with the law, then there was no suspicion of criminal activity to justify the stop. If the stop of your car was illegal, the evidence obtained by the officer following the stop can not be used against you at trial, including police observations and alcohol test results.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    The Law Offices of Robert L. Driessen
    The Law Offices of Robert L. Driessen | Robert L. Driessen
    There may be potential issues with a 1538.5 here. Police are able to pull individuals over if there is a reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred. However in your case it was a light that is not required. I would contact an attorney to assist you.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Law Office of Andrew Roberts
    Law Office of Andrew Roberts | Andrew Stephen Roberts
    Yes they can pull you over. You can file a motion to surpress the evidence as to whether there was probable cause because the third tail light was not needed. If you prevail in this motion the stop was invalid and no DUI charge. I believe the report will state other grounds for pulling you over. You should have an attorney review this report.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Law Office of David Baum
    Law Office of David Baum | David M. Baum
    While Officers do have discretion to pull over vehicles for minor violations, such as non functional tail lights, which can lead to arrest for more serious violations, you can challenge their decision, where, as in your case, it appears to be a "pre-textual" stop. This means that they were really pulling you over on suspicion of DUI, but because they lacked probable cause to detain you on that charge, they used the broken tail light as a "pretext" or justification to pull you over and investigate their suspicion regarding the possible dui, which is not permitted.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Miller & Harrison, LLC
    Miller & Harrison, LLC | David Harrison
    It may very well be that the court will suppress everything the officer learned after stopping you if in fact he only stopped you because one of the three stop lights on the back of your car was out. However, the officer MAY testify there was another reason he stopped you. You really need to hire a lawyer to have this come out the right way.
    Answer Applies to: Colorado
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Charles M. Schiff, Attorney at Law
    Charles M. Schiff, Attorney at Law | Charles M. Schiff
    You need to raise the issue in a Motion to suppress evidence and/or dismiss . A judge will listen to the officer's testimony and decide whether the equipment problem justified the stop.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Betts Legal Services
    Betts Legal Services | Shawn M. Betts
    You can be stopped if any of the equipment on your vehicle is defective.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 7/3/2013
    Beaulier Law Office
    Beaulier Law Office | Maury Beaulier
    Yes. A faulty tail light violates Minnesota Statutes related to vehicle equipment and may form a basis for an officer to make a stop. However, there are many other challenges to DWI offenses that may apply. Any analysis would require a review of the police reports and video/audio tapes.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Matthew Cameron Attorney at Law
    Matthew Cameron Attorney at Law | Matt Cameron
    It is very possible under these circumstances that you might have grounds for a motion to suppress the evidence against you. I would need to know much more about the circumstances of the arrest to be able to evaluate this possibility.
    Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Frankel & Cohen | Scott Jay Frankel
    A police officer needs to have a legal basis to pull you over. If the officer witnesses a traffic violation, he can pull you over. Whether or not you were properly stopped will have to be litigated in court.
    Answer Applies to: Illinois
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Baner and Baner
    Baner and Baner | Jonathan Baner
    It really is a fine line. You need to carefully review the police report to try to ascertain if it was merely a pre textual stop. Such a stop is not proper. However, a stop for violation of the law is clearly proper. Then there are any number of other possible issues in DUI from the implied consent warnings, the PC/RS to believe drinking, the Miranda warnings (if appropriate), blah blah blah. Your attorney will go over it with you.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Law Offices of John Carney
    Law Offices of John Carney | John Carney
    A police officer can pull you over for any traffic infraction even if he does not charge you with it. Once he suspects that you have been drinking or using drugs he can ask for field sobriety tests, breath tests, and arrest you if you fail them. Drinking and driving is like firing a gun at a moving train and hoping that no one gets hit by the bullets. At least you did not injure yourself or others. retain a good criminal lawyer to handle the matter.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 11/30/2011
    Palumbo and Kosofsky
    Palumbo and Kosofsky | Michael Palumbo
    Yes it is a legal stop.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 5/31/2013
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