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Understanding your rights during traffic stops

On Behalf of | Jan 3, 2024 | Criminal Defense

If the police have reasonable suspicion that a driver is violating the law, then they have the right to pull over the vehicle. The police may then proceed to ask the driver questions to gather evidence and check the driver’s license and vehicle registration. If the police suspect the driver is drunk, they may even have the driver perform a standardized field or chemical sobriety test.

The driver may be arrested and charged with criminal actions if the police gather substantial evidence. However, drivers should be aware of their legal rights. Being unaware of your legal rights during a traffic stop may increase the likelihood of being arrested for reasons that you may not understand. 

Here’s what you should know about your constitutional rights during traffic stops:

4th Amendment rights

The police can search people and vehicles during traffic stops. However, the police can not perform unreasonable searches under the 4th Amendment. What this means is that the police are not free to act without justification.

A vehicle may be searched if the driver gives the police permission to do so. But, the driver doesn’t need to give permission. Alternatively, the police may have a warrant that would grant them the right to search a vehicle or reasonable suspicion of a crime, such as an open bottle of alcohol in the vehicle in plain sight. 

5th Amendment rights

As mentioned above, the police can gather evidence against the driver by asking them questions. These questions may be related to where the driver has been, if they know why they are being pulled over or if they were drinking.

Under the Fifth Amendment, people do not have to answer questions asked by the police that might lead to self-incriminating statements. To make it clear that a driver does not want to answer questions, they can plead the Fifth and refuse to answer any further questions.

If a driver believes their constitutional rights were violated during a traffic stop, then they may have a strong legal defense against criminal charges.