Access to Justice: Trial Lawyers
Your Rights at a Traffic Stop
Your Rights at a Traffic Stop
Do you know what to do if a police officer pulls you over while you are driving? Knowing your rights is important to give yourself the best chance to fight a ticket or an arrest.
Are Traffic Stops Legal?
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. A traffic stop is generally considered legal and reasonable if the police have a legitimate reason, or “reasonable suspicion,” for pulling you over and they conduct the stop in a reasonable manner.
When You See a Police Car
Pull your car over in a safe place as quickly as possible while letting the officer know you are complying. Use your signals and pull as far to the right shoulder as you can. Turn off your car and roll down your window. If it is night time, turn on your interior light. Place your hands on the steering wheel.
Do not reach for your documentation at this time. You might be reaching for your insurance and registration information, but the police officer doesn’t know that. Don’t give the officer a reason to think that you might be reaching for a weapon.
When the Officer Approaches Your Car
Let the officer do most of the talking. Be polite. Don’t interrupt or be argumentative. Do not say anything that can be used against you. For example:
● If the officer asks you, “Do you know why I stopped you?”, you should respond “no.”
● If the officer asks you, “Do you know how fast you were going?” You should respond with a simple “yes.”
Remember that silence is not an admission of guilt and cannot be used against you.
Only get out of the car if the police officer asks you to. If the officer asks you to get out of the car, do not make any sudden movements.
Are Vehicle Searches Legal?
A vehicle search is generally legal only when:
● The officer has probable cause to suspect there is incriminating evidence in your vehicle.
● The officer reasonably believes that the search is necessary for his or her protection.
● You have been arrested.
● You consent to the search.
This means that if you are stopped for a minor infraction, such as speeding, an officer is generally not allowed to search your vehicle unless you have given consent, there is probable cause, or the officer believes an occupant is armed and dangerous.
Remember that you always have the right to say no to a search. This includes if an officer asks you, “Do you mind if I have a look in your car?” The best way to respond to this question is to politely decline by saying, “I do not consent to any searches.”
If a police officer conducts an illegal search of your vehicle, the search can be challenged later by your attorney in court.
If you were pulled over while driving and have questions about your rights, contact us 816-503-6739 if in the Kansas City area or 417-553-4352 if in Joplin, Missouri area.
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