Getting pulled over by a police officer can be a nervous experience, unfortunately even more so these days. One of the reasons people get so anxious is because very few people actually know their rights when a cop pulls you over. Well, we’re here to remedy that.
Know Your Rights When Pulled Over
Reasonable Suspicion – The Supreme Court ruled that objectively reasonable suspicion, a burden much lower than probable cause, is all that is required for an officer to initiate a traffic stop. That does not mean, however, that they can pull you over at random. An example of reasonable suspicion would be if an officer notices your car is swerving back and forth in the lane. He may reasonably suspect that you are driving under the influence and pull you over.
Pulling Over Safely – You are not required by law to immediately pull over as soon as you see lights and hear the siren. You should pull over as soon as it is safe, but not before. Use hand signals to inform the officer behind you that you are aware you are being pulled over, but looking for a safe spot to stop.
Stay in the Car – Technically, unless you are being arrested, you have a right to stay in your car, even if an officer asks you to step out. However, not getting out of the car when asked will likely put the officer on edge. Police usually ask people to step out of the car as a precautionary tool, to make sure that you aren’t concealing a weapon.
Breathalyzer – Again, you can technically refuse to take a breathalyzer, but it may be better to submit. Texas, like most other states, has an implied consent law, which means that refusing to take a breathalyzer test could result in your license being suspended for as much as two years.
Checkpoints – Checkpoints are legal, and drivers are required to pull over if asked at a checkpoint.
Illegal Searches – Obviously, if the police have a warrant, you have to let them search your car. However, without a warrant, there are only a handful of reasons that an officer may search your car, including:
- With your consent
- Probable cause
- After your arrest
- Items in “plain view”
- Exigent circumstances
What Can I Do If My Rights Are Violated?
If you feel your rights have been violated, make a note of the officer’s name. Talk to a qualified defense attorney about fighting illegal searches or other rights violations during your stop or arrest.