Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

You be the Judge, can police pull over a car for loud music?

April 18, 2011 by Donald Applestein Esq.


On January 1, 2005 Jose Tolentino was driving in the vicinity of West 181st Street and Broadway at 7:40pm.

Photo by Flickr user Mr WabuThe police pulled him over allegedly for playing his car radio too loudly. He identified himself and when the police checked the computerized DMV records, they found he was driving on a suspended license. For this, he was convicted of “aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the first degree.” So, music lovers, watch out when in New York City!

In March, Jose’s case was expected to be argued before the Supreme Court on Fourth Amendment issues. Apparently, there was nothing wrong with the way Jose was operating the car. So, what was the probable cause for pulling Jose over?

Apparently, the police didn’t like the music. In the subsequent court proceedings, Jose argued that since the police didn’t have probable cause, the stop was unlawful and under the Fourth Amendment’s Exclusionary Rule, the evidence in the DMV records should have been suppressed.

Teacher's corner

Does the Exclusionary Rule apply in school searches?

The Exclusionary Rule provides that if discovery of evidence is a result of an unlawful act by the police, it will be suppressed at the subsequent criminal prosecution. This is referred as the “fruit of the poisonous tree” theory. The underlying rationale is to discourage police from unlawful activity: they will not act unlawfully if they know any criminal prosecution based on that evidence will be dismissed.

New York argued a couple of things: First, that the DVM records were already in existence and in the state’s possession before the illegal stop. Second, DVM information is public. Third, identity-related information should not be suppressible.

You decide:

• Should any information the government has about you be admissible in a criminal prosecution once your identity is established?

• What, if any, limits should be placed on the admissibility of information the government may have? (Tax information? Credit information? Health information?) Or, put another way, what information should be suppressed?

• Under these facts, should the information about the suspended license have been suppressed?

You be the judge.


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