Driving without headlights at night is probable cause for a stop

The Missouri Court of Appeals recently handed down a decision in State of Missouri vs Jackson SD32201. In this case, the driver filed a Motion to Suppress the officer’s observations for lack of probable cause.  The officer observed Jackson stop abruptly then drive around the block without headlights. When the officer stopped defendant, he was already out of the vehicle and heading to the house he originally stopped at. The defendant argued that this indicated he was not engaged in suspicious activity and therefore the officer had no reason to detain him.

The Court reasoned that an officer has probable cause to pull someone over for a violation of State Law (the headlight statutes are below). In this case, defendant was violating State Law by driving without headlights more than a half hour after sunset. The Court further reasoned that once an officer has contact with an individual and observes intoxicated behavior, s/he is justified in expanding the reason for his stop.

Section 307.040:

1. No person shall drive, move, park or be in custody of any vehicle or combination of vehicles on any street or highway during the times when lighted lamps are required unless such vehicle or combination of vehicles displays lighted lamps and illuminating devices as hereinafter in this chapter required. No person shall use on any vehicle any approved electric lamp or similar device unless the light source of such lamp or device complies with the conditions of approval as to focus and rated candlepower.

Section 307.020(9):

“When lighted lamps are required” means at any time from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise and at any other time when there is not sufficient light to render clearly discernible persons and vehicles on the highway at a distance of five hundred feet ahead. Lighted lamps shall also be required any time the weather conditions require usage of the motor vehicle’s windshield wipers to operate the vehicle in a careful and prudent manner as defined in section 304.012. The provisions of this section shall be interpreted to require lighted lamps during periods of fog even if usage of the windshield wipers is not necessary to operate the vehicle in a careful and prudent manner.


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