When a police officer pulls over a vehicle without reasonable suspicion required for this stop to be lawful is that considered false imprisonment? Or would that require the driver also to be arrested to constitute false imprisonment?

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    Your stipulation that they lacked any reasonable suspicion will be most likely wrong. The bar is incredibly low, but yes, some police officers still miss it
    – Trish
    Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 14:09
  • I would guess police officers everywhere are allowed to do random traffic checks. Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 21:13
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    @ZizyArcher your guess would be incorrect.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 1:29
  • In the US, for stops of this nature: Consult Terry v. Ohio for the relevant Constitutional issues. State constitutions may provide additional protections, but the federal Constitution is generally a good place to start. It's such a good baseline that stops of this nature are called Terry stops.
    – Kevin
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 18:16

2 Answers 2


Police have the authority to stop a vehicle if they have a reasonable suspicion of a crime. That means that there must be an articulable ground for believing that there probably was a crime, which includes a specific fact (like "seeing a trail of blood", and not "it's suspicious that an old car would be driving in this neighborhood"). Without a reasonable suspicion, the detention is not with legal authority. PC 236 states that

False imprisonment is the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another

The stop is a violation of the personal liberty of a driver, and without lawful authority, the stop is unlawful. Although the doctrine of qualified immunity might suggest that police officers cannot be prosecuted, there is no qualified immunity for California police officers accused of false arrest or imprisonment.

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    It's not necessary to conclude that there "probably was a crime"; that's probable cause, which is explicitly distinct from reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard. It can also be suspicion that a crime is imminent; it needn't be in the past or present. There is another element of reasonable suspicion that this answer omits, which is that the person being stopped must be reasonably suspected to have some connection to the crime.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 1:27
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    I find it very hard to believe that your police isn't allowed to stop a vehicle for a general inspection. In my country this is called "general traffic control" - they check your drivers license, the vehicle registration, in my country they also check the stickers showing your next technical inspection and exhaust checkup. Additionally they ask you to show your first aid kit and your warning triangle - everything requested by law. Under special circumstances like mountains and icy roads they will check your tires and snow chains. Which of course depends on the local traffic laws
    – eagle275
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 9:28
  • @eagle275 Yep, that's true also in Italy. You have no intrinsic right to be "left alone" by police on public roads (that's different if you are driving on private property). If you are on public roads police can stop and check your papers (license, insurance, etc.) and your vehicle any time at their will. They cannot search the vehicle (that requires a warrant), but they can inspect it to check it meets the traffic code requirements. So they can make open the trunk to see if you have the mandatory spare "fifth wheel", but they cannot, for example, make you open a bag you are transporting. Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 13:33


Unlike some other jurisdictions, there is no requirement for an officer to have "probable cause1" or suspect an offence as the police can stop a vehicle for any reason under section 163 Road Traffic Act 1988:

(1) A person driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road must stop the vehicle on being required to do so by a constable in uniform or a traffic officer.

(2) A person riding a cycle on a road must stop the cycle on being required to do so by a constable in uniform or a traffic officer.

(3) If a person fails to comply with this section he is guilty of an offence.

There is no associated power to search the vehicle or its occupants but under section 164 and section 165 the driver must produce inter alia their licence, name, date of birth, address, insurance details and other relevant documents as the case may be.

Note that although vehicle stops can be random, police officers are subject to the public sector equality duty under section 149 Equality Act 2010 and not permitted to stop a vehicle solely based on the occupants' protected characteristics.

1The term "probable cause" is not used in the UK, but roughly equates to somewhere around reasonable suspicion / reasonable belief

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    Answered in accordance with: we expect and encourage answers dealing with other jurisdictions ... please tag your answer using the tag markdown: [tag: some-tag]". From the Help centre
    – user35069
    Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 12:54
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    > there is no requirement for an officer to have "probable cause1" This seems to be the case in the UK, but I specifically asked for the law in California, where a probable cause is always required for a Terry stop. I improved the question wording to help understanding the issue. Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 13:00
  • The requirement to show vehicle tax, insurance and MOT documents is just about obsolete now. It's been several years since a 'tax disc' had to be displayed in the windscreen, and MOT and insurance status are available to officers electronically. Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 18:20
  • True, but as PNC and MID aren't always 100% up to date (and alas, accurate) the powers are still available just in case.
    – user35069
    Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 19:42
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    @GabrielDiego probable cause is required for an arrest. A Terry stop requires only reasonable suspicion, which is a less stringent standard.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 1:19

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