Is the fact that someone looks young legally enough reason to pull them over?
June 21, 2010 10:45 AM   Subscribe

Is the fact that someone looks young legally enough reason to pull them over?

My younger siblings have been stopped three times by our local police department because they look young. This was the stated reason twice.

The first was the day after my brother got his driver's license. The officer pulled him over because he thought he looked too young to drive.

The second and third were my sister. She was driving with friends after midnight. We have a curfew in our small town. The first time she got pulled over for five over, but the officer was most interested in their age. She did not get a ticket. The third time the officer told her that she was pulled over because he wanted to check their age.

They've never gotten in any real trouble during these stops. In no instance were any of the officers discourteous. My siblings aren't angry. I'm just curious if these stops are lawful. We are in Indiana.

Is there enough reason to pull someone over because they look young? Is it legal to pull someone over for another reason (5 miles over) if there is no intention to cite them, and there is no PC for the reason for actually pulling them over?
posted by chris p to Law & Government (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is it legal? No. Will you ever be able to prove that you or your siblings were subject to profiling, when it's your word against an asshole small-town cop who will insist that you were driving erratically? Not a chance.

If you get ticketed for any bullshit reason, take it to court and explain in calm tones that the cop is incompetent and profiling you, and you might get the charges tossed. Until then, you're kind of stuck. Fortunately, this is one of those problems that will go away on its own, albeit with an unpleasant few years in the interim.
posted by Mayor West at 10:49 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

what state?
posted by brainmouse at 10:49 AM on June 21, 2010

Oh, it says, sorry.

In general, though, there are 2 types of things you can get ticketed for: Primary offenses and secondary offenses. Primary offenses you can be pulled over for (like speeding), secondary offenses you can't be pulled over for, but can be cited for once you're pulled over for a primary offense. So in the case of her being pulled over for speeding, that was absolutely legal regardless of the state (as speeding is a primary offense in every state).

I'll see if I can find the primary offenses in Indiana.
posted by brainmouse at 10:55 AM on June 21, 2010

I think this might be the case where the police can get a way with the stop. It isn't the same as being stopped for Driving While Black or Walking While Latino (which will soon be tested), it is in fact illegal to drive under a certain age, and age curfews are allowed, so that too means stops are legal based on suspected age.

Now, if there is a pattern of the police stopping large numbers of people in an area and being generally wrong, that could show an intent to have a chilling effect on legal activities (even without any citations), and would be a whole 'nother plate of beans.
posted by Some1 at 11:06 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't find a specific citation to back me up, but after doing a bunch of reading I think that it is legal for cops to stop someone because they suspect they are violating probationary license restrictions.
posted by brainmouse at 11:11 AM on June 21, 2010

Definitely legal to pull someone over for 5 miles over and not cite them. Warnings are given out all the time. I was pulled over for what the officer eventually told me was an illegal lane change. When I protested that I had signaled, he said, "I know, but it took you too long to go from one lane to the other." Huh? He eventually searched my car and found my friend's bong, a bag of what appeared to be pot and what appeared to be a roach in the ash tray. He let us go after we dumped out the bag of green stuff. He let us keep the bong. No ticket for anything. I am glad they were not forced to take action. It was a bs stop and an illegal search and he knew it.

Who is going to complain that "I got pulled over today and the officer did not give me a ticket for speeding! He let me off with a warning. If he is going to pull me over, he should ticket me!" Not many people I suspect.

I don't see the issue. There is an age floor on how old you need to be to drive. They look young enough to possibly be under age. Got pulled over and no harm, no foul. I see it the same as if someone looked under age buying whiskey. You would card them. This is coming from a privacy freak and someone who despises tactics that violate civil liberties.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:12 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why would it be illegal to profile a driver based on their age?

Profiling is a problem when it is based on a characteristic of a protected class, such as race, color, sex. I don't think being a minor is a protected class in any way that would provide justification for banning profiling.
posted by alms at 11:15 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mayor West is simply wrong that it is illegal for a cop to pull someone over because he has a reasonable belief that the driver is too young to be driving legally.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:16 AM on June 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

I am not basing this on anything but common sense, but surely it has to be legal to pull someone over if you suspect them of breaking the law when you have reasonable ground for your suspicion. "Looks too young to have a license" seems like a reasonable ground.

I realise that's a slippery slope but like, I could drive at 12 because I drove trucks on a farm, which is private land. People saying the stop is not kosher are basically arguing that as long as I broke no laws on a jaunt in the family car on the public highways, the cops could not legally pull me over.

You must be a particular age to drive a car on public roadways. If the cops can't stop you when they suspect you are not that age, the law is more or less unenforceable, and that's just dumb.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:25 AM on June 21, 2010

I don't think this is profiling at all. A cop can pull someone over if he or she sees them violate a traffic law or if he or she has probable cause to suspect a violation of traffic or other law.

It's against the law to drive without a license. You have to be a certain age to get a license, so looking extraordinarily young for your age gives rise to probable cause to suspect that the driver is unlicensed. I don't see how it's like illegal racial profiling -- everyone is subject to the laws of age and this will eventually stop being a problem for your siblings.

It's like getting carded when you're over 21. You're not breaking the law, but it looks like you could be, so you get carded.
posted by motsque at 11:47 AM on June 21, 2010

The standard for a traffic stop is reasonable suspicion, not probable cause. Reasonable suspicion requires that a someone "could reasonably believe a person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity". Driving without a license is a crime. Since you can't have a license under a certain age, if a reasonable person could believe your siblings are under that age, it's legal for them to be briefly detained to verify they actually do have a license.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:58 AM on June 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was pulled over for looking too young to drive once, in Illinois. I was 16 but did in fact look considerably younger. The cop was nice about it. I've known a few other people pulled over for looking young, usually near a high-school or other teen gathering spot. It's definitely a more common thing to get pulled over for in low-crime areas.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:23 PM on June 21, 2010

OxFCAF is correct. (BTW, I'm a criminal defense attorney.)
posted by mikeand1 at 12:27 PM on June 21, 2010

Oops, yes, reasonable suspicion. Not probable cause. Interestingly enough, I got pulled over right after that erroneous post.
posted by motsque at 12:52 PM on June 21, 2010

If they do look too young to drive, it's reasonable to make a stop.

Think about the flip side; a cop sees a what appears to be a 13 year old kid driving, but doesn't pull them over to check. That kid then runs into a school bus full of nuns and they all explode and die. The community would crucify that police department for not taking action when they saw someone who looked too young to be driving and did nothing.
posted by Menthol at 2:03 PM on June 21, 2010

Legal, and a good idea. A lot of kids get impatient about their licenses, and are driving on permits outside of legal hours or without meeting the legal passenger requirements -- sometimes by parents who tell 'em "oh, go to the store and get me some cigarettes, you have your permit." The eager kid does it, because he or she wants to and their parent said okay, then they get into an accident and find out their parent's insurance doesn't cover them without the passenger requirements being met, and so on. If your younger siblings are doing the right thing, and want to get on the good side of the local cops, they should just say, "I understand why you'd check, no worries" and keep a smile on their faces.

Interestingly enough, I got pulled over right after that erroneous post.

That's what you get for posting while driving. :P
posted by davejay at 2:50 PM on June 21, 2010

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