In March 2021, a new Virginia law went into effect that prohibits law enforcement officers from making traffic stops for certain minor offenses.
While some Virginians have expressed concern over how the law may affect public safety, many who support the measure believe it may help prevent officers from using minor violations to unfairly target individuals, and especially people of color.
New statute makes certain traffic stops unlawful
With the passage of the new law, officers can no longer make a traffic stop for the following reasons:
- No brake lights or high-mount stoplight
- No taillights
- No light illuminating a license plate
- No exhaust system or an exhaust system that is excessively noisy
- Certain tinting films or shading materials
- Certain items hanging in the vehicle
Additionally, the new statute makes it unlawful for an officer to stop, search or seize a person or item based only on the smell of marijuana.
Minor infractions no longer probable cause for a stop
An officer cannot make a traffic stop without probable cause to believe an individual has committed a crime.
Unfortunately, officers have sometimes used minor traffic violations as “probable cause” to pull over a driver, often with the intent of finding incriminating evidence of other offenses.
In a recent Virginia case, officers stopped a black driver for a non-functioning taillight and arrested her for a DUI. When she took a sobriety test at the county jail, her blood alcohol content was 0.00g/210 L.
Under the new law, a minor traffic infraction is no longer probable cause for an officer to pull over a vehicle. If an officer does so and finds evidence of DUI, drug possession or other crimes, that evidence may not be admissible in court.