Thanks to a busted brake light in North Carolina – and eight U.S. Supreme Court justices – evidence gathered in an otherwise illegal search can now be used against a defendant if the police were acting on “good faith.” The December 2014 ruling in Heien v. North Carolina comes at a time when police officers nationwide are already taking plenty of criticism for allegedly overstepping legal boundaries. It means that a police officer can stop and arrest you for DUI even if the reason you are being stopped isn’t a legal reason. Moreover, any evidence that’s discovered during an illegal stop can now be used against you, so long as the police officer believed in “good faith” that there was a legal reason to pull you over.
The court’s decision means that more California drivers may be arrested and charged with DUI, and more of the evidence gathered against them can now be introduced in court. It also means that if you’re arrested for DUI in Orange County, you should immediately obtain the legal help of an experienced Orange County DUI defense lawyer. The case began in 2010 when a North Carolina police officer stopped a driver whose right brake light was out. The officer wrongly believed that he had a lawful reason to make the stop, but in North Carolina the law requires only one brake light, so the stop was illegal. Nevertheless, the stop led to a search of the suspect’s vehicle, and illegal drugs were found. When the case finally reached the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices decided that the drugs could be used as evidence in spite of the illegality of the stop because the officer acted in “good faith.” It’s surprising that the ruling didn’t draw more news coverage; it’s a major precedent that entirely overturns traditional views of our constitutional protection against illegal searches and seizures.
Thus, it’s conceivable that you could be stopped for an illegal reason, an officer could decide that you’re intoxicated, and you could be arrested, charged, and convicted for DUI – all on the basis of an illegal stop. Now more than ever, if you’re charged with DUI in Orange County or anywhere in southern California, arrange immediately to speak with an experienced Orange County DUI defense lawyer.