What Are My Rights When The Police Pulls Me Over?

SQ Attorneys

Most people try not to interact with law enforcement. For most, it is a new experience and it is common to feel nervous. When you interact with police, you must understand your constitutional rights.

Law enforcement officers may pull you over if they reasonably suspect you engaged in criminal activity.  For example:  1) an officer sees you driving over the speed limit, 2) an officer runs your license plate and sees you have an active arrest warrant and/or 3) An officer sees you swerving between lanes or driving erratically

Drivers who see a patrol car’s lights on behind them must safely pull their vehicle over to the right side of the road. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) suggests drivers keep both hands on their car’s steering wheel until the police officer tells them otherwise.

Generally speaking, traffic officers can decide how they will handle your traffic stop. Typically, an officer will begin the conversation by asking the driver for the following information: 1)A driver’s license or other form of identification,  2) Proof of car insurance and 3) Proof of the vehicle’s registration.

State law generally requires drivers to provide some form of documentation. Failing to do so may lead to a traffic ticket or a misdemeanor arrest. If you do not have ID, police will ask you to provide your name and date of birth. Lying about your identity in this situation is a serious crime.

After getting your documents, the officer will check police databases for active warrants or driver’s license suspensions. The officer typically must take you into custody if there is a warrant for your arrest. Similarly, if the state has suspended your license, the officer will not allow you to drive away from the stop.

Drivers and their passengers can remain silent during a traffic stop to avoid making potentially incriminating statements. But, in most situations, the vehicle’s occupants must answer questions about their identity. In some states, even minor violations of the transportation code could lead to an arrest. Many officers, though, will not arrest a cooperative driver if they can simply write a citation.

Even in the case of a suspended license, the officer has the choice of calling a wrecker and sticking you with a towing bill or allowing you to call a friend to pick up your vehicle.

The arresting officer has some control over what happens to your vehicle and how comfortable your arrest experience will be. Some officers may note your cooperative nature when the judge sets your bail. That could save you money and allow you to spend less time in custody.

The Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable governmental searches and seizures. This protection also extends to your vehicle.

But people have a lower expectation of privacy in their vehicles than in their homes. To search a home, police officers generally need to get a search warrant. But they can sometimes perform warrantless searches of vehicles. Police officers may only search a vehicle if they have probable cause that the driver or passengers are committing or have committed a crime. Police may develop probable cause in several ways.

For example, police may search the vehicle if they see contraband in plain view. If the driver admits to having narcotics in the vehicle, they may also search the vehicle. If the officer sees an open beer in the cupholder, they may search the car.

Officers may search your vehicle without a warrant if they arrest you, but only in some situations. Officer safety at risk is one situation. Another is if there is a need to preserve evidence of a crime to prevent tampering by the person charged. They may search the car immediately or impound it and search its contents later.

A car that gets impounded and searched is for inventory purposes and not to look for evidence. But, if police find evidence of a crime during a routine inventory search of a lawfully impounded car, it will likely be admissible in trial.

If an officer has probable cause to search your vehicle, they do not have to ask for your permission. Sometimes, a police officer may not have a reasonable basis to establish probable cause. In that case, the officer may still request to search your vehicle.

Drivers do not have to consent to a requested search. If you agree to their search, the police may search your entire vehicle. Consent to search the vehicle typically includes the right to search unlocked containers. But, you may limit the consensual search to only specific areas of the car. Their search does not violate your Fourth Amendment rights because you agreed to it.

Suppose a local police officer searches your vehicle without your consent or probable cause. During the search, they find incriminating evidence and arrest you. You may challenge any incriminating evidence they may find during your criminal case. The Fourth Amendment’s Exclusionary Rule bars courts from considering evidence from an illegal search and seizure

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So, it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer. SQ Attorneys can be reached at (425) 359-3791 and/or (206) 441-0900

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