Protecting Your Rights During a Traffic Stop

Police woman checking documents of driver - rights during traffic stop concept

Almost every person who drives will likely be pulled over at some point. Whether you rolled through a stop sign, went a few miles per hour above the speed limit, or you were stopped for a serious matter like driving while , a traffic stop can be extremely stressful. In these situations, it’s vital to be aware of your legal rights during a traffic stop under both the United States and North Carolina Constitutions — and how to protect them.

What Should You Do if You’re Being Pulled Over?

If you see the flashing lights of law enforcement behind your vehicle signaling you to pull over, put your turn signal on and pull over to the right when it is safe to do so. Once you have pulled over, put your car in park and turn off your vehicle. Turn on your vehicle’s hazard lights, as well as the interior light if it is nighttime.

You should keep your hands on the steering wheel so the officer can see them as they are approaching the vehicle. When the officer gets to your car, they may ask to see your license and registration. Once you have identified yourself, you are not obligated to answer any further questions. In addition, do not exit the vehicle unless the officer asks you to do so.

What are Your Rights During a Traffic Stop?

You have several crucial rights at a traffic stop under the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments. Importantly, the First Amendment grants you the right to freedom of speech. Under this amendment, you are allowed to calmly refuse to consent to a search of your vehicle. The First Amendment also gives you the right to record your interaction with the officers as long as you do not interfere with the performance of their duties.

Your rights during a traffic stop also include the following:

  • You have the right to remain silent — It’s essential to understand that you have the right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself under the Fifth Amendment. Anything you say at a traffic stop can be used against you. The police are required to inform you of this when they read you your Miranda rights if they are interrogating you while in custody. If you wish to exercise this right, you must clearly inform the police that you are invoking it.
  • You have rights under the Fourth Amendment — The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches performed by the government. In other words, the police cannot stop you for no reason. Law enforcement must have reasonable suspicion or probable cause that you committed a crime or traffic infraction.
  • You have the right to an attorney if you are arrested — Upon arrest, you have the Constitutional right to counsel. In this case, you must immediately tell the police that you wish to have an attorney. By asking to speak with an attorney, the interrogation must cease, and the police are no longer able to question you until your counsel is present.
  • You have the right to refuse to give consent to a vehicle search — Police must have probable cause to lawfully conduct a search of a vehicle during a traffic stop. However, you do not have to consent to the search. You can inform the police that you are refusing to give consent by simply saying so. If the police proceed with searching your vehicle anyway, they will have to show the court how the search was justified. If they are unable to do so, any evidence obtained as a result of the search may be excluded.
  • You have the right to leave if police have not arrested you — The police are only permitted to detain you for as long as necessary under the circumstances. If you have not been placed under arrest, ask the officer if you are free to leave. If you are, calmly go your own way.

It’s essential to always be polite, courteous, and cooperative during a traffic stop. Do not lie, provide false information, or interfere with the police performing their duties. However, you should be sure to keep your responses to any questions you are asked brief so that any statements you provide cannot be misconstrued and used against you.

What are the Rights of Passengers During a Traffic Stop?

If a vehicle is stopped because of an infraction, the passenger is also seized and prevented from leaving. A passenger’s rights during a traffic stop are the same as those that are afforded to the driver, and they are just as important. Notably, a passenger has the right to remain silent and not answer questions from the police. They also have the right to leave if they have not been arrested and can refuse to consent to a search.

A passenger has legal standing to challenge the legality of the stop and any subsequent searches in court. For instance, if police conducted a search and arrested the passenger based upon their findings, the passenger can argue that there was no legal basis for the stop. They might also be able to raise the issue that their Constitutional rights were violated. If the court finds that the search was conducted unlawfully, the evidence collected may be deemed inadmissible in the case.

Contact an Experienced North Carolina Traffic Infraction Attorney

If you are facing a DWI or another traffic-related offense, it’s critical to speak with a skillful criminal defense attorney who can fight for the best possible results in your case. The Johnston County criminal defense lawyers at Reece & Reece, Attorneys at Law skillfully represent clients for a wide array of traffic infractions and offenses. Call (919) 300-1249 to schedule a consultation and learn how we can assist you.

Categories: Traffic Infractions