Published September 18, 2015
Generally speaking, drivers should take careful stock of what or what not they are possibly being pulled over for, and if there is anything illegal within the confines of their person, passengers’ possession, or within the vehicle. First and foremost, drivers facing a traffic stop are always advised to pull over immediately to the nearest safe location, generally on the right hand side of the roadway. Trying to outrun police or maneuver away from their attempts to stop your vehicle creates much larger criminal issues than a simple traffic stop would. Law enforcement is limited in their ability to search private vehicles due to a number of Constitutional Rights, most notably the set of procedures known as the “Plain View Doctrine”. The “Plain View Doctrine” prohibits law enforcement officers from investigating inside a vehicle, or anything else outside of plain view without a warrant. For drivers, this would include any items inside a glove compartment, the trunk, or even concealed under a seat. Without the driver’s consent to search the vehicle, an officer must have a warrant with probable cause to look further inside your personal vehicle. For this reason, drivers generally should decline an officer’s request to search their vehicle.
Additionally, law enforcement may request drivers and passengers answer questions during a traffic stop. These questions do not need to be answered, and in many instances, only license, registration, and insurance information are the only pieces of information an officer is required to be given by drivers. Refusal to answer questions, although perhaps frustrating to law enforcement, is a right of drivers, so long as their refusal is not misconstrued as resisting arrest. Likewise, drivers do not need to give officers consent to search their vehicles either.
Problems with Exercising Driving Rights:
While under normal circumstances, most drivers are fully allowed to exercise their civil rights during a traffic stop, including refusal to answer questions, allow a search of the vehicle, or offer any other potentially incriminating evidence, many states take a completely different stance from an administrative standpoint. Though no criminal action may be taken against drivers refusing to offer law enforcement anything that may be used to incriminate, there are administrative penalties that may be weighed against drivers that are allegedly failing to cooperate with a law enforcement officer. The most notable example of this is when a driver refuses to submit to breathalyzer or other sobriety tests from a law enforcement officer. Though the refusal itself is not a crime, the state itself can utilize this refusal to submit as grounds for levying penalties from an administrative angle, including suspending licenses for a period of time.
The following is not meant as legal advice and following it in no way creates an attorney/client relationship with the author. Advise given is for educational value only. If you need legal advice please contact Attorney Randy Greenwald at the number above or via email on the contacts page