Anytime you see flashing red lights behind your vehicle, you probably get a bit nervous. You wonder why police are stopping you. Maybe your brake lights are out. Or maybe you were swerving a bit. Or maybe you are a victim of racial profiling.
You likely are even more concerned if you realize you have drugs in your glovebox or have an unregistered firearm in under your seat. How should you handle this traffic stop? Can you stop police from searching your vehicle?
What to know about traffic stops
First, any time, police stop your car in a traffic stop, they need a reasonable suspicion that you have committed a traffic violation. That means a strong, unbiased and factual reason for believing you committed a traffic violation. As a result, police likely will ask you for your license, registration and proof of insurance as part of their stop. If they see drug paraphernalia in your vehicle, or a gun, police have probable cause to conduct a vehicle search. They don’t need a warrant in this situation.
However, you can refuse a vehicle search. If you don’t, you could face more serious criminal charges if you have drugs or an illegal gun in your vehicle. To avoid a vehicle search, you first need to stay calm when officers stop your car. Then when officers approach your window, you should roll it down and immediately place your hands on the steering wheel. You can say, “I do not consent to a search,” at any moment.
You also can invoke your right to remain silent. You can say, “I don’t want to answer any questions” in your first interaction with an officer. You also can ask, “Why am I being stopped?” and “Am I free to go?” if you’ve received a minor traffic citation or warning.
If police arrest you
If police arrest you during a traffic stop, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. You don’t want to answer any questions without an attorney present. You also want to have an attorney help mount a defense against the charges you face. Part of that defense may include challenging why police decided to conduct a vehicle search and dismissing evidence collected if police conducted the search illegally.
Dealing with a traffic stop by police can be stressful. However, you need to remember you do have rights, including refusing to submit to a vehicle search and getting an attorney’s help. You also want to be proactive, to stop an unwarranted vehicle search that could result in you facing serious criminal charges.