There are a limited number of reasons a police officer may stop you when you are driving a car. These include:
- If the officer observes you committing a traffic violation, such as speeding or running a red light
- If your car has some kind of equipment failure, such as a broken taillight or headlight
- If the officer has “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity, such as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- If the officer runs your license plate through the police database and determines that the car’s owner has a warrant out for his or her arrest or is driving with a suspended or expired driver’s license
If you find yourself stopped by an officer while you are driving, you have the right not to speak to the police officer, and you have the right to withhold consent for a search of your car or person.
If the police pull you over, you should immediately stop the car, turn on the inside light if it is nighttime and have your license, registration, and proof of insurance ready to provide to the officer. However, do not make any sudden movements that may lead the police to believe you are discarding something illegal or reaching for a weapon, as this may give them the authority necessary to search your car.
You should respond simply to the officer’s questions and avoid saying anything that can incriminate you. You may advise the officer you do not wish to speak to him or her, and ask if you are free to leave.
An officer must have consent to search you or your car unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or has a search warrant. You do not need to give the officer consent to search your car, and consent cannot be implied from your silence. If the officer removes you from the car, he is allowed to cuff you for a brief detention. If you resist him when he is trying to detain you, however, he may then arrest you, which will then give him authority to search you and your car, so be sure to be compliant.
If you are arrested as a result of a traffic stop, it is important to seek the advice of an experienced attorney, who can make sure your constitutional rights are protected. An attorney can help you fight the stop in court and attempt to get any evidence or statements suppressed, or even get the entire case thrown out.