There are those unexpected road situations to prepare for; then there are the police! At one point in your driving career, you have been or will be pulled over by the police. The result can be a fine or arrest, depending on the nature of the offense.
The police should always protect your rights, but sometimes this is not the case. The police officers can fail to respect your rights.
Worse, sometimes the citizens are unaware or unsure of their rights as drivers, so whatever treatment they undergo at the hands of the police goes unquestioned. You have your rights as a driver, even when you are in the wrong.
Now, being stopped by police is not a happy experience: criminal charges can be thrown your way. Again, some people are not cut for such situations — they have emotional problems that only worsen when confronted by the police for whatever reason.
It is a more complicated situation if you are clueless about your fundamental rights. Some drivers end up being charged with a crime they could have avoided if they knew all their rights.
Therefore, take the time to learn your rights to assert them without fear. Note that each state has its unique version of what constitutes a traffic offense, but the federal traffic rules go beyond each state. Many of your rights as a driver also cut across the states because of the United States Constitution.
So What Are Your Rights As a Driver When Stopped By The Police?
- The Right To Remain Silent – You have the right to remain silent. But first, you have to loudly inform the police officer that you wish to exercise your right to remain silent.
You can also answer the general questions about your license, insurance, and registration.
You can then keep silent when asked questions, such as about where you are driving to, where you are from, etc.
Why is the right to remain silent sometimes necessary when pulled over by the police? Because by talking and talking, you might end up giving the police a good excuse to arrest you.
Some people are not that good at speaking respectfully to the authority, in which case silence is golden.
However, your right to remain silent has its limit; in some states, you have to break the silence and answer when asked to provide your name, or else you are arrested.
- The Right To Ask The Officer To Identify Himself – You have the right to ask the police officer to identify himself. Politely ask him his name and badge number.
If an officer refuses to identify himself, you can later file a complaint with whatever information you managed to extract about his identity.
- The Right To Refuse Search Consent – You can decide not to consent to a search of your car or yourself, although the police have the right to search your clothing if they have reason to suspect you have a weapon. But they must have a search warrant.
According to the Plain View Doctrine, a law enforcement officer has no right to search your vehicle beyond what can be seen in plain view. To penetrate beyond that, he needs a warrant.
In short, an officer should not get to see what is concealed under the seats or in the trunk unless he has a warrant. Without a warrant, he has to depend on your consent.
- The Right to a Government-Appointed Advocate – If you are arrested, and you cannot afford to hire a personal advocate, you have the right to apply for a government-appointed advocate.
- The Right to Make a Phone Call – Should you be arrested, you have the right to make a phone call to whoever you wish.
- The Right to a Receipt of Your Belongings – If you are arrested, the police officer should provide you with a receipt of everything taken from you. This can include your wallet, jewelry, clothing, etc.
How Should I Behave When Pulled Over by the Police Officers?
When you are pulled over, it’s not that you have been proven guilty. Many times the police are only suspicious. All you have to do is prove you are not involved in any suspicious or illegal activity.
The suspicious activities the police officers are ever on the lookout for include:
- Lack of driving qualifications (driving license).
- Driving an unroadworthy car.
Your behavior alone can determine whether you are arrested or let go. So here is the procedure when pulled over by the traffic police officer:
- Please do not attempt to get away or to stop the officers from carrying out their duties.
- You should pull over immediately. Ensure you pull over to a safe, well-lit location where you can be in plain view.
- Do not panic. Stay calm and cooperate.
- Turn off the car and switch on the internal light (if it is night).
- Open the window halfway, and then place your hands on the steering wheel.
You should keep your hands where the officers can always see them. Do not do anything that could be interpreted to mean you are about to attack them. Only start searching for the documents when asked to.
- When asked for documents, do not give false ones. Show your New York driver’s license, registration, and insurance proof when asked.
Do not lie when asked questions. The officer may separate you from your passengers and question you separately to compare your answers.
You might as well keep silent instead of lying. It is a crime to lie to a government official, yet remaining silent (especially when in doubt) is not.
If it is a weighty matter, speak in the presence of your lawyer.
- If the officer gives you a ticket, you should sign it, or else you might be arrested on that ground because it amounts to failing to cooperate.
- Do not resist an arrest, whether you think you are innocent or not. You will get the opportunity to defend yourself in court.
- Do not refuse to submit to a breathalyzer; otherwise, you might be arrested and charged with refusal to cooperate with the police officers. Remember that the officers may have to test your urine and blood as well to ascertain your sobriety.
Wrapping It Up
Do not physically resist a police officer or go about threatening to file a complaint. Remember, some matters could be settled out of court if you only learn to behave respectfully.
The officers are doing their job, which is to maintain law and order on the roads so that you can drive safely. Be part of the solution, not the problem.