Understanding Your Rights During A Traffic Stop

On behalf of Michael A. Gottlieb, P.A. posted in felonies on Thursday, August 13, 2015.

The sight of flashing lights in the rearview mirror can initially be met with anything from annoyance and frustration to shock and even resignation from those motorists unfortunate enough to have done something to catch the attention of law enforcement officials.

Yet no matter this initial reaction, most people will ultimately end up feeling unnerved during a traffic stop regardless of the circumstances. While this is certainly understandable, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to be anxious, as you have clearly defined rights under the U.S. Constitution.

What are some of these constitutional rights as they relate to traffic stops?

Firstly, people should understand that the right to remain silent doesn’t just cover formal arrests, but also applies to temporary detentions like traffic stops.  

This doesn’t mean that you can refuse to speak any words to the officer who pulled you over. Indeed, you must provide them with your license, registration and proof of insurance if asked. Furthermore, applicable state law might also dictate that you must answer certain questions designed to uncover more about your identity (name, address, etc.).

When asked anything outside of this ambit, however, legal experts indicate that you have the right to decline to answer.

What about the right to search me or my vehicle?

Legal experts indicate that it is your right to decline any casual requests by officers to “look around your car a bit” or even submit to a brief pat down. This is all predicated, of course, on you not being placed under arrest or the police not having probable cause to conduct a search.

In either of these scenarios, law enforcement can conduct constitutionally permissible searches.

What about my right to an attorney?

The right to an attorney is not applicable during a routine traffic stop or any other type of temporary detention by law enforcement. However, in the event they take you into custody for a prolonged period, legal experts indicate that they will either have to let you go or arrest you. When the latter occurs, then the right to an attorney applies.

Whether you are under investigation or have been arrested for any sort of felony, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible to ensure the protection of your rights and your future. 

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