Being stopped by the police can be an intimidating or frustrating experience. If you are uncertain about your rights or how to properly interact with the officer, a stop could turn into a hostile situation. While being stopped by the police is never an enjoyable experience, knowing your rights during a stop can make the experience as positive for you as possible and ensure that your legal and constitutional rights are protected.
If You Are Stopped in Your Car
What to Do:
If a police car pulls you over, the most important thing to remember is to remain calm and be polite to the officer. When the officer activates the lights on his or her police cruiser, you should pull your vehicle over to the side of the road at the first opportunity when it is safe to do so. When the officer approaches your window, roll your window all the way down and keep your hands on the steering wheel so that the officer has no reason to fear that you may be holding a weapon. Wait to reach into the glove compartment for your registration until the officer asks for it so that it does not look like you are reaching for a weapon or trying to hide something. You must provide your license, registration, and proof of insurance to the officer upon request.
You should stay in the car unless the officer asks you to step out. If the officer asks you to step out, do so calmly, without any sudden jerks or movements. Even if you are frustrated, don’t argue with the officer or refuse to comply. This could cause a dangerous situation with the officer and could hurt any legal case later.
What Are Your Rights:
A police officer has authority to require you to provide identification and step out of the car, but you also have certain rights during a car stop that you should be aware of.
You can and should refuse consent to allow the officer to search your car. Usually, an officer can only search your car if the officer first obtains a search warrant. If an officer asks for permission to search your car, you can and should politely refuse.
However, an officer can search your car without a warrant if the officer has probable cause to believe that you have contraband in the car. The officer will likely have probable cause to search the car if there are open alcohol containers or evidence of drugs visible in the car. The officer may also have probable cause if the car smells of marijuana or alcohol. If an officer attempts to search your car, you should calmly and politely state that you do not consent to the search but do not interfere with the officer. An attorney can challenge the results of unconstitutional searches at a later time.
You can and should refuse to allow the officer to search your person. If an officer asks you to step out of the car, the officer can quickly pat you down to search for weapons. To perform a more thorough search of your person, the officer must obtain a search warrant. Thus, if the officer asks to search your person, you can refuse.
You have the right remain silent and the right to an attorney if you are arrested. An officer has authority to arrest you if the officer saw you commit any crime. Even if the officer only saw you a commit a minor offense, such as reckless driving, the officer has authority to arrest you. If the officer places you under arrest, do not fight or argue, as this will only harm your case and cause a dangerous situation. In fact, resisting an arrest could lead to additional criminal charges against you. You have the right to remain silent until provided with an attorney. Do not say anything to the officer. He or she may act friendly, but they are investigating you for a crime. Be polite, and clearly and calmly state that you want to remain silent and that you want an attorney.
If You Are Stopped on the Street
What to Do:
An officer has authority to stop you on the street if the officer has reasonable suspicion that you are engaged in criminal activity. If an officer stops you on the street, do not resist or argue, as this will only create a dangerous situation. You can calmly ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, then quietly walk away. If the officer says no, then do not attempt to fight or leave.
Take mental notes throughout the encounter. Remember what you were doing when the officer stopped you. Pay attention to how many officers are present during the stop. Take note of any search that the officers perform and what questions they ask you. Finally, pay attention to how long the encounter lasts.
What Are Your Rights:
You can and should refuse to allow the officer to search you. The officer only has authority to briefly pat you down for weapons. The officer may remove from your clothing any weapons or anything that obviously feels like contraband, such as a brick of marijuana. To perform a more thorough search, such as removing your jacket or searching your pockets, the officer must either obtain a search warrant or place you under arrest. If the officer asks for consent to search you, you can and should politely refuse.
You have the right to remain silent. When an officer stops you on the street, he or she does not need to read you your Miranda rights, but you still have the right to remain silent. If the officer begin asking you questions that you do not want to answer, you should calmly and politely state that you are exercising your right to remain silent and that you would like to be on your way. If the officer refuses to let you leave, you should calmly and politely reiterate that you are exercising your right to remain silent and that you would like an attorney.
Just like a traffic stop, if the officer saw you commit a crime, the officer has authority to arrest you. If the officer places you under arrest, do not fight or argue, as this will only harm your case, cause a dangerous situation, and may lead to additional criminal charges. Once the officer has arrested you, the officer has authority to search you for relevant evidence. Do not resist, but clearly and calmly state that you want to remain silent and that you want an attorney.
If you are placed under arrest, call the experienced criminal defense attorneys at White Law PLLC right away. You can and should put our number—(517) 774-2274—in your phone so that you can call us if things ever go wrong. You are not likely to know ahead of time when you will be arrested, so it is always best to be prepared. Our attorneys have over 30 years of experience protecting defendants’ rights by looking for constitutional violations in their cases. If you think the police may have violated one of the rights discussed here, please contact our office for a free consultation. We are ready to zealously represent you and fight for your rights.