A police traffic stop is often a stressful and intimidating situation because you may not know exactly how to conduct yourself when a cop pulls you over. For example, you may know that you have certain constitutional rights, but you also want to be respectful and cooperative.
It is crucial to remember your rights whenever you have an encounter with law enforcement. Here are a few protections you should always keep in mind:
The police need probable cause to pull you over
Unlike a random search at an airport, the police cannot pull you over on the road for no reason, they need a valid cause. Some potential reasons that may establish reasonable suspicion include:
- A broken brake light
- Expired registration
- Running a red light
The only exception to this rule is if you drive through a police checkpoint.
You do not have to say much
In general, all you need to give the police officer is your license, registration and proof of insurance. It is a good idea to respond to basic questions about your identity and be polite. However, you do not need to apologize for any behavior or try to explain anything. By being apologetic or talking too much, you may actually incriminate yourself. To avoid a ticket or arrest, be as silent as possible.
You do not need to consent to a search
Here are the only situations in which a police officer can search your car:
- There is a warrant
- The police officer has probable cause to suspect you of a crime
- The officer arrests you because of probable cause
- The cop sees something illegal in plain view
- You give consent
If it is a normal traffic stop and a police officer asks to search your vehicle, you have the right to decline. Make sure you assert your rights and legally defend yourself during any stop or arrest.