It is not uncommon in the Jacksonville, Florida area and throughout Florida to see people riding motorcycles without a helmet. As criminal defense lawyers in the Jacksonville, Florida area, one question we recently were asked from a client is whether the police can pull them over for not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle. This can be much more serious than just being subjected to a traffic ticket. Many serious criminal cases start with a seemingly harmless police stop. Most DUI’s start with the police officer claiming to observe some sort of moving violation allowing him/her to pull the driver over and initiate a DUI investigation. Many illegal drug cases start the same way and end with the police searching the vehicle and/or the driver/passengers and finding illegal drugs. Gun arrests also often start with the police pulling a driver over for some sort of fairly harmless moving violation.
So, it is important as criminal defense lawyers, to understand when a police stop is unlawful because when it is an illegal stop and the police discover some evidence of a crime, that evidence can be thrown out of court.
In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer stopped a motorcycle driver for not wearing a helmet to ask him if he had proper motorcycle insurance. The officer then learned that the driver had a suspended license and arrested him. The criminal defense lawyer challenged the stop arguing that the police officer did not have a legal right to stop the motorcyclist for not wearing a helmet to check his insurance.
The court found that the stop was illegal. As a result, any evidence of his suspended license that the police officer learned after the stop was inadmissible, and the charges were thrown out. It is not proper for a police officer to stop a person on a motorcycle for not wearing a helmet to check for insurance. The general rule is that a police officer can only stop and detain a person, whether on the street or in a vehicle, if he/she has reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in criminal activity. Not wearing a helmet on a motorcycle is not evidence of illegal activity (except for those under 21), and therefore not a legal basis for a valid stop by police.