Can a police officer turn his headlights off when driving at night to check to see if your plate light works?

UPDATED: Mar 28, 2012

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Can a police officer turn his headlights off when driving at night to check to see if your plate light works?

I was arrested after the police officer turned his headlights off driving behind me at night for a plate light violation. My plate light was only dim and this police officer admitted to me that it may have been only dim after the stop,

Asked on March 28, 2012 under Criminal Law, Maine


Kevin Bessant / Law Office of Kevin Bessant & Associates

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

What the officer is looking for during most traffic stops is "probable cause" to pull you over. This can be for speeding, failing to signal, broken tail-light, swerving while driving, etc. The issue in your case is whether or not a broken plate light gives an officer probable cause to pull someone over in your state. Because traffic laws vary by state, I can not for certain tell you if plate-light violations are grounds for a police traffic stop where you live. But if they are valid stops in your state, then, yes, what the officer did would be legal by law.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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