Introduction to Know Your Rights Regarding Car Searches
You have been pulled over by a police officer. On the side of the road at night, the officer hands you your license and ticket before asking if you have anything illegal in your car. “No, I don’t,” you reply. Without skipping a beat, the officer follows up: “Well then you won’t mind letting me search your car then, will you?” What should you do? How should you answer?
Know What To Do To Protect Your Rights
It is easy to forget in the midst of a traffic stop that you do have legal rights and protections. These rights must be asserted, however, to have any effect. The next time you find yourself in the above-described situation, remember this:
- You do not have to answer questions put to you by law enforcement. Aside from telling officers your name and basic information, you do not have to answer any other questions. Not only this, but you should not answer any question put to you by law enforcement that would tend to incriminate yourself. You may simply and politely tell the officer that you do not wish to answer or that you wish to assert your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. You should be aware, however, that there is a huge difference between declining to answer a question from an officer and lying about the answer. You cannot be penalized for refusing to answer questions a law enforcement officer asks you, but you can be punished for giving the officer false information.
- You are free to go when the reason for the traffic stop has been resolved. In the above-described situation, the driver was free to go after the officer handed the driver his license and ticket. Officers are not permitted to detain individuals longer than is necessary to complete the tasks associated with the traffic stop absent additional information that the individual is engaged in or connected to criminal behavior. If you receive your driver’s license and ticket but the officer does not tell you that you are free to go, politely ask and be persistent until you obtain an answer. If the officer tells you that you may leave, you do not have to answer any further questions but can (and should) go on your way.
- You do not need to consent to a search of your car. What happens in many traffic stops is this: The officer has a hunch or suspicion that you may be committing a crime beyond the reason for the stop, but he or she does not have enough information to support a search of your car. So instead he or she asks for your permission to search the car and attempts to pressure you into providing consent (“If you don’t have anything illegal, you do not have anything to hide or worry about.”) If you are not comfortable letting the officer search your vehicle, politely but firmly tell the officer you do not consent to a search. There is no criminal penalty or sanction for refusing to consent to a search of your car.
You should always assert your rights during a traffic stop in a polite but firm tone. If you believe your rights are being infringed upon – say the officer pulls you out of your car and says he or she is going to search your car anyway – you may verbally object to what is happening. See the article on AZCentral on what to do when pulled over by police in Arizona. However, do not become violent or physically resist as this will only cause more difficulties and complications for you. Instead, assert your rights in court: The court may suppress certain evidence based on the manner in which it was collected, which in turn can lead to a dismissal of some or all of your charges. For more information call to speak with an experienced Arizona criminal defense attorney.