As American citizens, we rely on the police to protect and serve. However, it’s important for citizens to learn to protect themselves by knowing and understanding their rights where the police are concerned.
Many Americans are unaware of their rights, especially when it comes to police interaction. The following describes our civil rights as they pertain to being pulled over by the police.
The Right to Protect Your Safety
When being pulled over by police, motorists have the right to protect their own safety. This can be done in a number of ways, which include the following:
- Finding a safe, well-lit place before stopping for police. This should be done as quickly as possible, but motorists shouldn’t feel pressured to pull over in an unsafe area.
- Turning on the interior lights. This can help prevent confusion when reaching for license and registration, which is a good thing for motorists and their personal safety.
- Rolling the window only partway down.
- Remaining still and keeping hands in plain view. Like turning on interior lights, this can prevent confusion on the part of the police, which can reduce the risk of bodily harm and other complications.
The Right to Remain Silent
The right to remain silent doesn’t only apply to individuals under arrest. As American citizens, we are never obligated to speak to the police for any reason.
Aside from presenting a driver’s license, proof of insurance and registration, motorists are not required to answer any questions or provide any additional information.
Although motorists are under no obligation to answer questions or speak to police, asking, “Am I free to go?” is often recommended for drivers and passengers alike.
If a police officer continues to ask questions, motorists should respond with, “I choose to remain silent,” and follow up with “Am I free to go?”
Since anything we say can, and will, be used against us in a court of law, keeping silent is recommended for any citizen having any type of contact with the police.
If speaking with police becomes unavoidable, it should always be done in the presence of a defense attorney. This should be the case whether an individual is guilty or innocent of any crime, no matter how petty or severe.
The Right to Refuse Consent to a Search
Many citizens don’t know this, but without probable cause or a judge-issued search warrant, we are under no obligation to consent to a police search of our cars or persons.
If a police officer proceeds to search an individual’s car or person without permission, motorists should never resist; instead, in the event of a non-consensual search, citizens should remain calm, stay out of the way and never, under any circumstances, display verbal or physical aggression.
In cases of probable cause, which occurs when police officers spot evidence of a crime with the naked eye, or the presentation of a search warrant, motorists should ask questions regarding the search.
Warrants should be read by all parties involved and any questions regarding probable cause should be answered by police.
Advice on How to Handle Being Stopped by Police
In addition to our civil rights, there are several tips that may come in handy in the event of being pulled over by police. A few pieces of advice for stopped motorists include the following:
- Stay calm. Motorists should never run or argue or display overly-anxious behaviors. This can make policemen nervous and may even be used as probable cause to search a vehicle or personal belongings.
- Don’t be intimidated. Getting stopped by police can be a frightening experience, but it’s one that most Americans will endure at some point in their lives. Drivers should remember that cops are only human and that American citizens have undeniable civil rights that will protect us in the event of injustice.