Your-Rights-During-A-StopYou need to know what your rights are if you are stopped by law enforcement. If you are like most people, you may be nervous and anxious when you see the lights behind you. You can be obeying all the laws and not doing anything wrong and still be pulled over.

You need to know what the police can and cannot do. They can ask you to get out of your car. That does not mean they have the right to search you or your vehicle. You cannot be searched unless the officer has a particularized reason to be concerned for their safety. If they see something that looks like a weapon they may be able to search you to see if you are carrying one. The scope of this search is limited. Since they are making sure you are not armed, they can only look for weapons. That involves patting down the outside of your clothing. Only if they feel something they believe is a weapon can they reach inside your clothing and retrieve it.

There is nothing to prevent a police officer from asking if you have any drugs or weapons in the car. You can refuse to answer that question. As long as you are outside the car, they have no right to look inside. Their concern is for their safety and they are only allowed to look in areas where you might be able to retrieve a weapon. If you are standing outside your car, you do not have access to the inside, especially with an officer standing there. Thus the officer does not have the right to search your car.

During a stop, the police have the right to determine if you have outstanding warrants. These can be for failing to pay traffic fines or warrants for more serious offenses. They routinely call a dispatcher who will check your name through their computer system. They can also check to make sure your driver’s license is valid. An officer is authorized to detain you for a reasonable amount of time to complete this check.

If the officer has finished and issued a ticket or warning you are free to go. On occasion, an officer may ask at this point for consent to search your car. You can refuse that request. You do not need a reason to refuse. It is a right that is guaranteed in both the state and US Constitution. When you refuse a search, you are invoking your rights that are essential to your defense in case you were searched against your expressed objection.

A recent US Supreme Court case upheld the right to object to a request to search a car that occurs after a ticket has been issued when there are no other suspicious circumstances. David has used the recent ruling to obtain suppression of evidence gathered by prolonged detention without justification.