Although the law requires you to pull over when an officer stops you in traffic, you still have legal rights as a private citizen. You should understand your constitutional rights so you know when law enforcement has acted illegally.
Start with the answers to these common questions about retaining your civil liberties during an encounter with a police officer.
Does an officer need a reason to pull me over?
An officer cannot stop your vehicle for no reason. The officer must indicate that you have committed a traffic offense such as reckless driving or that you have an open court case or warrant that requires attention. If he or she has not expressed these reasons for your detainment, you may ask why he or she is holding you and if you are free to leave.
Can I video my encounter with law enforcement?
A police officer may not seize your phone or camera even if you film your interaction. As long as your actions do not obstruct his or her actions, you are free to film. In addition, you may identify the officer by requesting his or her badge number.
Can law enforcement search my car?
Although an officer may search your car without your consent, he or she must have probable cause to do so. Examples of probable cause include drug paraphernalia or other criminal evidence in obvious view or your admission that you have committed a crime.
What if the officer arrests me?
Law enforcement officers must state your legal rights when arresting you. You have the right to contact an attorney or request a court-appointed attorney as well as to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination. You have the right to talk to your lawyer on the phone privately. You have the right to a hearing with a judge within 48 hours of your arrest.
Remain calm and clearly state your rights when facing law enforcement during a traffic stop. For example, you may state, “I wish to leave if you do not have a reason to detain me” or “I do not consent to a search of my vehicle.”