Supreme Court: Traffic stop OK despite mistake of North Carolina brake light law

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The Supreme Court says police are justified in making a traffic stop even if it turns out the officers are mistaken in thinking the driver broke the law.

The justices said Monday that such a stop does not violate the Constitution's protection against unreasonable searches.

The ruling came in a North Carolina case in which a police officer pulled over Nicholas Heien's car because the right brake light was out, although the left one still worked. A search led to the discovery of cocaine in the trunk.

A state appeals court said the stop was impermissible because state law only requires a car to have one functioning brake light. But the state's highest court reversed, finding that the officer's misunderstanding of law was reasonable. The Supreme Court agreed.

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