Know Your Rights When You Are Stopped By The Police


It is a nerve-wracking and anxiety-inducing experience when you are driving and are stopped by the police. Sometimes you may have an idea as to why the police are pulling you over. And, sometimes you may not know why you are being pulled. What are the police required to tell you as to the reason you are being stopped? And, what are your rights? Let’s look at both of these in some detail.

What is Required of the Police Officer?

If an officer sees a speeding car, a car with a defective tail light, or has reasons to believe that the driver was just in a drug deal, the officer is allowed to turn on the blue lights and order the driver to stop. But, the officer has no obligation to tell the driver why they are being stopped. As long as there is a reason, the court will find that the officer was justified in making the stop.

After the stop is made, the officer can only keep the driver stopped for as long as necessary to identify the driver, confirm or dispel the suspicion, issue any tickets, or make an arrest. DUI cases usually progress like this: the officer pulls the driver, comes to the window and asks for ID, and smells alcohol. Then, the officer is allowed to ask further questions based on the odor of alcohol. Subsequent questioning by the officer may test the person’s ability to multi-task by dividing their attention between two tasks at the same time. The officer can only begin the DUI or drug investigation if the odor of alcohol or drug paraphernalia is visible through the window.

How to Act When You are Pulled Over

First and foremost, you should stay calm. Pull over as quickly as is safe to do so and do not obstruct traffic. Always turn off the engine. If you are the driver, turn on the inside light if it is night, open the window partly, and place your hands on the wheel. If you are a passenger, keep your hands visible. Avoid any sudden movements and provide any necessary documents the police officer requests. But, only move to get the documents after being asked for them.

Be cooperative with any lawful request by the officer. Give your name and address when asked. Comply if the officer asks you to either get out of the car or stay in the car. It will not hurt the situation if you are polite.

What are Your Basic Rights When You are Stopped by the Police?

It’s important to know how and when to talk to the officer. Always stay calm. It is your basic right to remain silent when being questioned. It is in your best interest not to be argumentative or resistant with the police officer when you are pulled over. You are required to tell the officer your name. But, if the officer asks other questions such as your immigration status, where you’re traveling from, or where you are going, you can exercise the right to remain silent. However, you must verbally state out loud that you are exercising this right.

If you want to answer any of the officer’s questions in an effort to be helpful, you may do so. It isn’t required and just remember that, when you do, you are waiving your right.

After speaking with the officer, ask if you are free to go. If you are, then you can go your own way. If the officer says that you are not free to go and continues to ask you questions or detains you, stay calm. Resisting arrest is a crime. It is your right, however, to know why you are being detained or arrested. So, the officer is not required to tell you why you are being pulled. But, if you are detained or arrested, the officer is required to tell you why.

Can an Officer Search You?

The police cannot search you if you are not under arrest or if they lack a valid warrant. If you do not consent to an unwarranted search and they do it anyway, anything found may be dismissed. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees your right to be free from a warrantless search and seizure. However, the police may pat you down through your clothing without a warrant or arrest, if they have a reasonable suspicion that you are carrying a weapon.

Can an Officer Search Your Car?

If the officer asks to search your car, do not give consent. If the police officer has legitimate grounds to search your car, he or she will do so regardless of whether you give permission or not. It is much harder to challenge evidence the officer finds in your car if you consent to the search. Many times, the officer will ask for your permission even when there is no legal ground to support a search.

What To Do If You Think Your Rights Have Been Violated

Memorize or write down the badge or patrol car numbers and obtain witness contact information if you think your rights have been violated. It is within your right to capture video. Even though it can be difficult to win lawsuits against the police, due to the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity,” you should report any misconduct that you have experienced. Contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

When You Are Driving Under the Influence of an Intoxicant

When you are pulled from the suspicion of DWI, and are driving under the influence, you are not required to admit it to the officer. Most states do not require you to perform field sobriety tests, like walking in a straight line, and don’t penalize you for refusing to do so. However, your refusal can make an officer more suspicious.

On the other hand, drivers who refuse to take breathalyzers, blood tests, and other chemical tests have their driver’s licenses suspended or revoked for up to a year. The “Implied Consent Law” provides that every driver, upon receiving a driver’s license, automatically has consented to take chemical tests when asked by an officer.

Speak to a Criminal Defense Attorney Today

If you have been ticketed or arrested, or think your rights have been violated in a stop, call Coolidge Law Firm at (919) 239-8448 or fill out the form below. We will hear your side and offer our expert advice on the best possible defense for your situation. Our criminal defense lawyers serve Raleigh, Cary, Garner, Wake Forest, and all surrounding areas.

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