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Traffic Stops and Criminal Arrests


There are a great many traffic laws in Tennessee. In addition to the state laws, there may be local ordinances. Most of these offenses have fines and a few may include jail sentences. Few are felonies. But these minor traffic offenses play a large role in the criminal justice system in this country.

Because of the U.S. Constitution, police cannot simply stop people at random and search them looking for evidence of criminal activity. When it comes to motor vehicles, the broad range of vehicle offenses provides law enforcement with the "hook" they need to approach, question and potentially search.

When you fail to signal a turn, roll through a stop sign, cross the centerline or fog line painted on the road, have a burnt-out license light, turn signal or brake light and an officer observes the violation, they then have authority to pull you over, approach your vehicle and ask for your license and registration.

It also gives them a prime opportunity to look into your vehicle, observe your behavior up close, including if your eyes are bloodshot, your speech is slurred or your breath has the odor of alcohol or marijuana. Without the nominal traffic violation, they would have no chance of detecting any of this.

Millions of traffic stops occur every year as the first step in what becomes a criminal prosecution. In Franklin last week, a man was stopped for rolling through an intersection. Unfortunately for him, police claim they found marijuana, a scale and $2,000 cash and he is now facing serious charges for selling drugs on top of the traffic offenses.

Even if your own safety was not paramount, consider this: by failing to keep all of your lights and signals on your vehicle in working order and following the basic rules of the road, you are inviting a police officer in Franklin or the Williamson County Sheriff's deputy to pull you over and then inspect you and your vehicle more closely.