Knowing your rights during a traffic stop
Traffic violations seem to be some of the most common infractions of the law, with speeding tickets or parking violations that don’t generally lead to hearings in front of a magistrate or court official like Judge Mike Tawil. Even still, most Americans take it personally when they are pulled over and issued a citation, and the first thoughts that often come to mind are those of civil rights.
As an American citizen, you receive certain rights by the nature of the Constitution and the founding documents of the nation’s government. Very rarely do Americans explore the full extent of their rights, but they are quick to use them as an excuse to get out of a ticket. While you may be guilty of speeding or have another violation, there are certain civil rights that protect you during a traffic stop. You need to know what these are if you are going to exercise them.
1. Search Consent
If you have watched the A&E television show “Live PD,” you will see how often police officers search a vehicle under probable cause authority. While the laws concerning this activity vary from state to state, a warrant or a probable cause are the only ways a police officer can search a vehicle. An officer may ask to search your vehicle while they have you pulled over, but you do not have to consent. However, officers do not have to tell you that you can say no, and many vehicle operators give permission out of fear, intimidation, or ignorance of their options. You must directly and unequivocally deny the officer of permission to search the vehicle, but be careful that you do not come across as antagonistic or rude.
2. Recording Devices
While many law enforcement officers have now been equipped with body cams or their vehicles have dashcams installed, you also have permission to film a traffic stop. The First Amendment is your grounds for recording either audibly or visually, but you cannot interfere with an officer that is trying to conduct the stop. Being rude and offensive with your efforts, such as shoving your iPhone into the face of the officer may get you collared for obstruction. Some officers do not respond well to being videotaped, so if an officer confiscates your camera or takes your phone, you will probably want to get a lawyer involved. You should definitely get a lawyer if you are arrested for filming.
3. Detention Limits
An officer has the freedom to pull over a vehicle and detain you based on the reasonable suspicion that a traffic offense occurred, but you cannot be held on the side of the road indefinitely. There aren’t written rules concerning the amount of time before the officer needs to let you leave since it could take several minutes for any license plate or ID checks to come back. However, 30 minutes is a long time, and if you are still sitting there, start recording the process and ask the officer on-site while you are still being detained.
4. Answering Questions
It doesn’t matter if you have been detained in your car or while traveling on foot, you not have to answer any of the officer’s questions. While it does seem to be in your best interest to cooperate by handing over your license and registration and staying put in the car, you do have the right to remain silent. If an officer starts to get more aggressive with you, pull out your phone and start recording the incident.
Even though traffic violations are often nothing to be concerned with, it is important to remember that you do have certain rights.