With so many stories of traffic stops gone awry, many people are left wondering what exactly their rights are when they are pulled over for a traffic violation. Police officers are focused on doing their job and possibly securing a citation or even a conviction if a crime is suspected. This can often lead to misunderstandings between the police officer and the driver. And when it comes to misunderstandings, the police always have the initial authority to resolve the issue the way they feel is best. But that doesn’t mean they are always right.
Below are some of the rights you should be aware of when being pulled over by the police.
Police need probable cause to pull you over
The police cannot pull you over and search your vehicle because they have a feeling, or because of the way you look, or because of the make and model of your car. Before pulling you over, they need to have a reason. Now that reason can be as simple as a broken tail light breaking the posted speed limit, but a reason is required for a traffic stop to be initiated. Now that doesn’t mean they need to issue a citation for the traffic violation. If you were pulled over for speeding and the officer finds drugs in your car, they can not give you a speeding ticket to provide you with a little break, but as long as it is in the report as what initiated the stop, it will be considered probable cause.
You can wait until you can pull over safely
When those flashing lights go on, you may quickly go into panic mode and feel that you need to immediately pull off the side of the road. Unfortunately, this is not always the safest option for you or the officer. You have the right to continue on until you get to a safe place such as a parking lot. Just be sure to not speed up or attempt to pull away from the officer and find a safe spot as soon as you can. If possible, find a place that is well lit and can allow the officer to come to the side of your vehicle without having to worry about traffic coming too close.
You may remain in your vehicle if you choose to
Many officers may ask you to get out of the vehicle straight away. This is often a safety precaution so the officer can be assured that you aren’t carrying any concealed weapons. You may not realize that you have the right to remain in the vehicle, but it is likely to be considered uncooperative by the officer and may raise his suspicions. Unless you have a compelling reason not to, it is likely in your best interest to comply.
There are only five reasons when a cop can search your vehicle without a warrant
The officer may ask to search your vehicle, but unless they are searching it for one of the following reasons, you don’t need to allow it. They can search your vehicle if:
- You give them verbal consent.
- There is something illegal in plain view.
- If you are arrested during the stop.
- If they have probable cause to suspect a crime has been committed. This can be such things as visible blood or injuries on your person.
- If there are exigent circumstances, which means they suspect you plan to destroy evidence.
If the officer has obtained a search warrant, they do have the right to search your vehicle, though they may be limited in their search. For example, if they are looking for a gun, they can only look in areas big enough to contain it. If they find something else illegal during the search, it falls under the plain view policy, and you can be charged.
You can refuse a breathalyzer
Many states follow an implied consent, which means unless you refuse, they can administer a breathalyzer. But you can refuse, though it can result in other consequences, such as a suspended license.
If you were arrested during a traffic stop and feel your rights were violated, it is crucial to contact an attorney immediately to look into the particulars of your case.