America has a proud tradition of justice and equality, and we have come a long way in our short history. However, we also still have a long way to go in many regards. Our country uses what is called an adversarial system, where guilt is determined by an impartial judge who weighs the arguments of each side’s representation. This is in contrast to inquisitorial systems of the past, wherein a judge plays the role of investigator. Unfortunately, adversarial systems rely on equal representation to arrive at the most just decisions, but state prosecutors and state defenders are given widely different access to resources to present their cases. To combat this inequality, it’s important for you to know your rights. Here, we’ll go over your rights during a traffic stop:

You Can Refuse To Answer Questions

The fifth amendment grants you the right to refuse to answer questions except under indictment or presentment of a Grand Jury. In a traffic stop, this means that you don’t have to answer questions that you don’t want to. While it’s still best to cooperate with the police, including showing your identification and complying with any commands, you can also brush off any excessive questioning with a reply along the lines of “I prefer to remain silent”. Remember, it’s important to be polite, but at the same time to realize that anything you say can be used to get you convicted. Even if you misspeak, what you say can be used as evidence against you.

Ask If You’re Free To Leave

It is illegal to detain you indefinitely without making a charge against you. You can be stopped during a traffic stop when an officer believes they have probable cause, but when an officer loses that they may avoid telling you that you’re free to go in order to build probable cause. If you’re in a traffic stop, and don’t know whether you’re being detained, simply ask “Am I being detained, or am I free to go?” The officer will either tell you yes, in which case you must stay put and wait to fight the charge in court, or no, in which case you are free to leave.

You Do Not Have To Consent To A Search

The Fourth Amendment states “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…” During a traffic stop, this means that, no matter what, you have the right to refuse a search of your car. Many people tend to let the police search their car anyways, thinking that refusing a search could be seen as suspicious, but it is a right granted under the Bill of Rights. Exercising your rights is a proud American tradition, so don’t be afraid to refuse a search of your vehicle. If an officer feels they have probable cause, they will search anyways. The difference is that, should they find or plant evidence, it’s much easier to avoid a conviction if you can prove the search wasn’t legal.

Exit When Asked

Normally during a traffic stop, you are expected to wait inside your car with your hands planted firmly on the steering wheel. However, if a police officer asks you to get out of the car, make sure to do so. It is illegal not to comply with this request when an officer fears for their safety. Even for something as benign as smoking a cigarette, if the officer feels threatened and asks you to step out, you are legally required to acquiesce.

Know Your State’s Recording Rights

Whether or not you have the right to record an officer during a traffic stop depends on the state that you live in. If your state is a “one party consent” state, then you have the right to record an officer without telling them. Pennsylvania, however, is a “two party consent” state, which means you cannot record an officer without their permission. If you happen to have a camera on when you are being detained, make sure to inform the police officer that it is recording.

 

Hopefully this advice will prove helpful if you ever find yourself subject to a traffic stop. Should you ever need a criminal defense lawyer in Reading, Pennsylvania or the surrounding areas, don’t hesitate to give the office of Dutko Law a call.