Operating A Vehicle With Only One Headlight In Virginia

In Reittinger v. Commonwealth, 260 Va. 232, 236, 532 S.E.2d 25, 27 (2000), the police pulled the defendant over for operating a vehicle with only one headlight. One officer approached the vehicle and stood next to the driver's window, and a second officer stood next to the front passenger side window. The first officer asked the defendant for his license and registration. After the officer gave the defendant a verbal warning for the headlight offense, the officer told the defendant he was "free to go." Immediately thereafter, without moving from the driver's side window, the officer asked the defendant if he had any illegal drugs or weapons in the car. The defendant said, "no," and the officer asked permission to search the vehicle. The defendant did not respond but, rather, consulted with the passengers in the vehicle. The officer asked to search the vehicle three times without response from the defendant before the defendant exited the vehicle. When he exited the vehicle, the officer saw what looked like a weapon in the defendant's pocket and ordered him to remove it. The Supreme Court held that the defendant had been unlawfully seized. Id. at 237, 532 S.E.2d at 28. The Court found that, "although Deputy Bolen had told Reittinger that he was free to go, we think that the events that transpired immediately thereafter would suggest to a reasonable person that just the opposite was the case." Id. In deciding Reittinger remained under the restraint of the traffic stop, the Court focused on the fact that the officers still flanked the vehicle even after the defendant was told he was free to go and on the repeated requests by the officer to search the vehicle. Reittinger, 260 Va. at 236-37, 532 S.E.2d at 27.