In a recent Jacksonville, (Duval County) Florida criminal case, a conviction for possession of cocaine was thrown out because the court found that the police officer’s stop of the defendant’s vehicle was illegal in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
In this Jacksonville, Florida criminal case, a police officer stopped the defendant for driving a car with a cracked windshield. The police officer justified his stop on the idea that he could stop a vehicle with an obvious equipment malfunction. The police officer then searched the car and found cocaine inside. However, the appellate court found that the police officer did not have the right to stop the defendant’s car just because the car had a cracked windshield. Because the stop of the defendant’s car was not legal, the cocaine that was found in the car could not be used as evidence against the defendant in court and the conviction for possession of cocaine was thrown out.
The criminal defense lawyer successfully argued that while there is a law that requires each car to have a windshield, there is no law that deals with cracked windshields. The law does not authorize the police to stop any vehicle that has any equipment malfunction. If it did, the police could stop vehicles for dents, broken antennas and other minor malfunctions. The court noted that the law does not contemplate such broad reasons to stop a vehicle.
So can a police officer pull a car over for an equipment malfunction, like a cracked windshield? Sometimes. There is a law that prohibits a driver from operating a vehicle that is in such an unsafe condition that it is a danger to any person or property. Therefore, an officer can pull a car over if he or she observes a vehicle with equipment, or in a condition, that is unsafe. An example might be a windshield that is cracked or broken to the extent that it is difficult for the driver to see through it.