Traffic stops by police are one of the most common ways that people- even innocent people- get arrested. All too often, people believe that if they are not doing anything wrong, protecting their rights during police searches is not important. However, your Constitutional rights exist for a reason, and it is vitally important that you both know them and exercise them when and if you are pulled over. Here are the most important things for you to know if pulled over by the police:
Ease The Officer’s Mind
Be respectful toward the officer from the moment you are pulled over, and put his or her mind at ease that you are not a threat. Place your hands on the wheel when he approaches your vehicle and warn the officer before making any sudden movements. Be friendly and cordial. Starting off the interaction with hostile behavior only makes it more likely that things will go badly and that you will be arrested.
There’s a reason that the right to remain silent is a right — it will help keep you out of trouble. Do not answer any of the officer’s questions about where you are going, what you have on you, etc. Many, many people panic and reveal information that could get them arrested. Do not be one of them. Simply tell the officer, “I’m exercising my right to remain silent, officer, and prefer not to answer.” Be respectful but make clear that you will not answer questions. Innocent people have ended up in jail because they answered police officer’s questions without an attorney present. Don’t be one of these people!
Do Not Consent To a Search
A law enforcement officer can only search your car if he has some compelling suspicion that a crime is taking place there. A “gut feeling” is not enough. The officer has to see or smell alcohol or drugs, for example. One of the best ways to prevent an officer from saying he or she had a reasonable suspicion to search your car is to lock your car and roll up the windows if the officer asks you to exit the vehicle. You should also only crack your car window enough to speak with the officer when you are pulled over, because this makes it less plausible that he or she will be able to say he saw or smelled something suspicious. If asked for permission to search your car, do not say yes. Clearly state that you do not consent to a search. An officer cannot use your refusal to allow him to search the car as a reason to search the car.
“Am I Free to Go?”
“Am I free to go?” are possibly the most important words you can say to a police officer. A police officer will often try to keep you for much longer than he is legally allowed to, and as long as you stay, this is legal. When an officer is keeping you on the side of the road, he’s trying to get information that may cause you or someone else to be arrested, so there’s no benefit to you of hanging out. Ask, “Am I free to go?” and if the officer says yes, then go. If the officer says no, ask him when you will be free to go.
Police officers are there to protects us from crimes, but this also means that they tend to assume a crime is taking place, even when it might not be. Learning your basic rights when pulled over by the cops can prevent you from being wrongly accused and arrested for something you didn’t do.