Know Your Rights: What to Do During a Traffic Stop
Imagine you are driving alone down a highway, when suddenly you see flashing lights in your rearview mirror. As you slow down your vehicle, you begin to sweat: did I go through a red light? Did I fail to signal when I changed lanes? Did the police notice a broken tail light? Didn't I do everything right?
This may have already happened to you. The best way to handle a traffic stop is to be respectful and cooperate with the officer. This means rolling your window down, remaining in your vehicle, keeping your hands where the officer can see them, and in low light conditions, turning on the vehicle's inside light.
However, in modern times, traffic stops all too frequently end up in confusion. You can't count on police to safeguard your rights, but you can do things to ensure clear communication, protect your rights, and increase your personal safety. Here are top tips for how to handle a traffic stop in Oklahoma.
You Have a Right to Identification
Citizens and police officers both have the right to request identification. When a police officer asks for identification, you must provide it, along with proof of vehicle insurance. This is true even if you are invoking your right to remain silent. Citizens also have the right to know the name and badge number of the officer who pulled them over, and whether they are recording the traffic stop. Asking for identification at the start of the traffic stop signals to the officer that you are aware of your rights, helps protect you from misconduct, and also ensures that you are being stopped by a real police officer rather than an impersonator.
You Have a Right to Remain Silent
Once you have been pulled over, you must stop your car and listen to the officer's instructions. However, you do not have to answer the officer's questions. You have the right to remain silent, but if you choose to do so, you must verbally inform the officer of your intention. Simply say "I will not answer any questions and I want an attorney." Your choice to remain silent cannot be used against you, but you must provide answers to basic questions such as your name, address, and date of birth.
You Have a Right to Refuse a Search of Your Car
You do not need to consent to a search of your vehicle. Officers often ask to search your car informally, by saying something like "mind if I look check out your car?" or "is it ok if I take a look inside the trunk?"
No matter how informal this question appears, it is calculated, not casual. These statements are requests to allow a full search of the vehicle. You have a right to refuse the request. Be aware that the police officer may still have a legal right to search your vehicle even without your consent under the following circumstances:
• if there are illegal objects, like drugs, in plain view; or
• if the officer has probable cause to believe there is contraband or evidence of a crime inside the vehicle.
If an officer brings a drug dog to your car, the dog is legally permitted to sniff around your car, regardless of whether you consent.
There is one important exception to this rule: the police cannot prolong the traffic stop in order to wait for a K-9 unit to arrive at the scene if the officer does not have reasonable suspicion that there is contraband in the car.
You Have the Right to Leave if Not Under Arrest
Once an officer has given you a warning or written you a traffic ticket, you have a right to leave. Officers can arrest a person for a traffic stop, but if you have doubts about whether the stop is over, ask the officer "am I under arrest?"
You Have the Right to an Attorney
If you are arrested during a traffic stop, you have a constitutional right to ask for a lawyer. Once you have been arrested, stop answering questions and calmly request a lawyer. Once you have invoked your right to an attorney, police questioning should cease.
You Have a Right to Remain in Your Vehicle
In the past five years, there have been several instances of sexual assault by on-duty police officers in Oklahoma. It is important to realize that if you are pulled over, you do not have to sit in the police car unless you are under investigative detention or under arrest. If a police officer asks you to join him or her in the police car, but you are uncomfortable with this request, you should ask "am I being detained?" This question triggers legal responsibilities by the officer. If the office says you are not under investigative detention, and are not under arrest, you may tell the officer that you would prefer to stay in your vehicle.
You Have a Right to Record Police
It is legal to film or record officers in public as long as you do not interfere with what the officers are doing. For example, do not shove your camera in the officer's face. If you are recording an officer and the officer tells you to put the device down, you must comply, but you can leave the device on.
If you believe your rights have been violated during a traffic stop, contact the experienced Oklahoma criminal lawyers at Compton Law Firm. Contact us today or call 405-542-2529 (542-CLAW) and we will immediately have one of our Oklahoma Criminal Law Attorneys speak with you. Read more about our team, or continue reading and researching our free legal information library.