Protecting your rights while cooperating with police can feel like walking a tightrope—one wrong move and you plunge to your doom. You should remember that even well intentioned police are nervous during traffic stops. You want to cooperate and defuse a potential conflict while not incriminating yourself or giving the police information that you do not have to share.
If you are pulled over here are some pointers which will help you to survive the encounter while asserting your Constitutional rights:
- You have a right to document the encounter with your phone or other device but it may be prudent to turn on the recording device while you are pulling over to avoid antagonizing the police officer by turning the recorder on in front of him/her.
- You are not required to roll your window all the way down; doing so could allow an officer to allege probable cause by claiming he/ she smelled alcohol or other drugs. Only roll your window down far enough to allow room to pass the required documents to the officer:
1. Driver’s license.
2. Proof of Insurance.
3. Vehicle Registration.
- Place your hands on the steering wheel so it is clear you are not reaching for a weapon.
- If the officer asks if you know why you’ve been stopped, always answer “No.” Do not admit knowledge of breaking any law.
- Politely decline to answer questions. If an officer asks you where you are going, what you are doing, if you are on probation or parole (which would allow the officer to search you/your vehicle without probable cause) or any other question(s) you are within your rights to decline to answer. However you should do so with respect. You could say, “I will not answer any questions, sir (or) ma’am.” Remember, the cop isn’t making small talk, he/ she is probing for information.
- If the officer asks you to step out of the car, you can ask why and say you would rather not. Chances are you will be forced to exit the vehicle anyway, but if the cop cannot name a legal reason for the request your Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure has been violated if you are forced to step out of the vehicle against your will without probable cause.
- If you are forced to leave your vehicle, roll the window all the way up and lock the car. Tell the officer that you do not consent to a search of your person or vehicle.
- If you are not issued a citation, or after you are given one, you should ask if you are free to leave. Being detained against your will beyond a reasonable time is a violation of your Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable search or seizure.
- If you are a passenger in the vehicle and the officer asks you to produce ID you can ask if you are under suspicion. If you are not under suspicion of a crime, you don’t have to show your ID. However, you should do so after politely declining, if the officer insists. This will allow your attorney to say that you were intimidated into complying with an illegal search.
- Document the encounter once it is over. Ask for the officer’s badge number if it isn’t in plain view. Write down details about the encounter, including date and time, location, what occurred, any information you have about the officer who detained you, and any witnesses. If you or somebody else filmed or recorded the encounter it will be most helpful.
- Above all, remember it is always wise to pick your battles. After respectfully asserting your rights you should comply with the police, even if what they are doing is wrong. Remember, if you consent to any of the above the police officer can legally do whatever you allow, so always say no, but remain calm and reasonable. This will force the cop to either back off or violate your Constitutional rights. Once your rights have been violated you can recover damages.
You can recover damages because your rights were violated and you were intimidated and bullied by police. Moreover you have a duty to do so. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects us against unreasonable search and seizure; the Fifth Amendment protects us against self incrimination. Recent events make it clear that we are in danger of becoming a police state. The only way we can stop this from happening is to assert our rights and punish wrongdoers through Civil Litigation.
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