New Seat Belt Law Will Lead to Greater Safety . . and More Criminal Arrests

New Seat Belt Law Will Lead to Greater Safety . . and More Criminal Arrests

Effective June 30, 2009, Florida legislatures have passed a new law that allows a police officer to stop an automobile solely based on the driver or front seat passenger’s failure to wear a seatbelt. Known as the Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Safety Belt Law, which can be viewed under Florida State ยง 361.614, the new legislation now grants law enforcement broad discretion. Before this act was in place, an officer could only pull a driver over who was not wearing a seat belt if the officer suspected another traffic or license violation. In other words, failure to wear a seat belt had to be the secondary offense.

Under the new safety belt law, a law enforcement officer has broad discretion to act in what may have been deemed an unlawful stop under prior legislation. For example, the officer may pull over a person leaving a bar or night club at 3 am who is not driving erratically, simply because he or she is not wearing a seat belt, in the hope that driving under the influence arrest may result. Similarly, an officer may be able to manipulate a stop based on race, age, or otherwise suspicious appearance alone, under the guise of a “no seatbelt” stop.

Such improper motives are regarded as pre-textual stops and are illegal under Florida law. However, when there is an “objective legal basis” for a stop, there is no pre-text. Because the new safety belt law deems all stops based on the failure to wear a seatbelt alone an “objectively legal basis” for a stop, we can anticipate a rise in criminal arrests.

Proponents of the new seat belt law include various public safety groups, individuals and families who have lost loved ones in traffic accidents where seat belts were not in place. The reasons for the stricter law are clear. Statistics glaringly establish that a large percent of fatalities occurring on Florida highways could have been avoided if the driver or passenger had been wearing a seatbelt. Also, traffic fatalities sadly remain the leading cause of death of Florida teenagers.

Fines for individuals who are caught not wearing a seat belt remain the same under the new law. Adults may be fined $30 and minors (under 18 years old) face double the amount- $60 (plus county fees). In the case of minors, the responsible adult in the vehicle is issued the violation.

While the new law will definitely play a role in saving lives on Florida streets, it does pose a unique legal challenge for those charged with crimes and their defense attorneys. If you have been pulled over under what may be a questionable basis, it is important to hire experienced legal counsel to thoroughly evaluate the facts of your case. You may be entitled to have your case dismissed on the grounds that an improper stop took place. An experienced criminal defense attorney will also be able to identify any legal defenses that may apply as a result of this new legislation. If you have questions about your traffic ticket, stop, or other criminal defense matter, call St. Petersburg criminal defense and traffic attorneys at Rooth Law Group for a free consultation today.

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