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What are my rights at a traffic stop?

On Behalf of | Apr 1, 2020 | Criminal Defense, DUI |

Every day, law enforcement officers pull over drivers in traffic stops in the Black Hills. Perhaps, police stop you because you ran a red light or have a broken taillight. Or maybe an officer sees you driving erratically and suspects you are driving drunk.

When police pull you over, it’s important to keep these three things in mind:

  1. Police must have a valid reason for making a traffic stop.
  2. You have rights at a traffic stop.
  3. If you stay calm and politely interact with the officer, you are more likely to avoid escalating the situation.

Probable cause at traffic stops

Often, if police smell alcohol on your breath or see that your eyes are bloodshot during a traffic stop, an officer may ask you to take a field sobriety test or a breath test to see if you are driving drunk. If an officer can smell marijuana in your car or on your clothes, the officer will likely ask to search your car.

Yet without a reason to believe a crime has been committed, officers legally can’t search your car. Police must have a probable cause to take a breath sample or initiate a search of your car or else obtain your consent.

Your rights at a traffic stop

At any traffic stop, you have the right to remain silent. It’s best to exercise your right to be silent immediately and not say anything more than you need to at the time. You do not want to admit any guilt or give officers any reason to suspect you of a crime, and if you’re uncomfortable at any time state you would like to have an attorney present for any further questioning.  This includes when you are asked any questions, such as where you are coming from, where you have been, where you are going, etc.

You can refuse to take a breath test or blood test. However, if you later face DUI charges, your refusal of these tests can be used as evidence in the case.  If you have a CDL, you should never refuse the breath test or the blood test or else you will lose your CDL for 1 year regardless of whether you get charged or convicted of DUI.

You can refuse consent to let police search your car. Yet if police arrest you for drug possession, officers don’t need a warrant to search or inventory the contents your car. Officers also don’t need a warrant if they feel they have probable cause to search your vehicle. Again, before you even get to that point, it would be better asking for an attorney, not saying anything and avoiding a search before consulting with a lawyer.

Most drivers are flustered when police pull them over.  Many try to talk their way out of the situation. If you keep in mind your rights and stay calm, you are more likely to avoid escalating a situation with police. Officers are more likely to ask more questions and possibly find a reason to arrest you if you get confrontational.