A Serious Stop
Interacting with a police officer can be nerve-wracking even if it is only for a traffic stop. Being pulled over seems easy enough to handle, but police officers can be intimidating even when you haven't done anything wrong. Unfortunately, looking nerve-wracked and intimidated doesn't always go over well, and not all police encounters are conducted fairly. Under the right, or wrong, circumstances, not knowing how to handle a traffic stop could land you in trouble if you rub the officer the wrong way. In many cases, you may drive away with nothing more than a moving violation ticket. In others, you may be facing DUI, reckless driving, or wet reckless charges.
You have rights when stopped by law enforcement at any time. You have a few basic rights that you can enforce when being pulled over. You will have the right to remain silent if interrogated. This right is protected under the Fifth Amendment. It is also part of your Miranda rights, read to you as the Miranda warning. These rights, including your right to an attorney, protect you from self-incrimination, but they are little understood. You do not have the right to ignore the police officer if you are asked to identify yourself. Your right to remain silent can only be exercised if you are in custody and being interrogated. Unless you are arrested or detained and the officer is asking you questions beyond basic identifying questions, you do not have the right to remain silent or the right to an attorney. Likewise, you do not have the right to refuse to provide identifying information or to cooperate with a request for your license and registration. Identifying yourself and providing basic documents such as your license are not incriminating in and of themselves.
If the officer asks to search your car, you do have the right to refuse your consent to the search. This right is protected under the Fourth Amendment. However, that officer may conduct a search without your consent if he or she obtains a warrant or has probable cause to do so. Refusing to let the officer conduct a search of your car may buy you some time, but it doesn't mean the search can't be done.
That being said, your rights when pulled over are limited but clear. You can refuse to be interrogated without speaking with an attorney first, and you can refuse a warrantless search of your car. You do have to cooperate with law enforcement by providing your license, registration, and proof of insurance when asked. You also do not have the right to refuse to sign a ticket you do not agree with. If you are written a ticket, you must sign it. You can be arrested if you don't. You can always contest a ticket in court so don't risk arrest.
DUI Specific Rights
Some traffic stops turn into DUI arrests. Knowing what your rights are in a DUI arrest can help you make the right steps to keep your case strong. If you are asked to take a field sobriety test, you do have the right to refuse. You do not have the right to refuse to take a chemical test, which would establish your blood alcohol concentration level. Refusing a field sobriety test often leads to a request for a chemical test, so, either way, it is wise to cooperate with law enforcement. Failing to submit to a chemical test will result in an automatic license suspension.
DUI checkpoints, also called sobriety checkpoints, are random traffic stops state patrol conducts to catch drivers who are driving under the influence. Drivers can be randomly stopped at the checkpoint. A uniformed officer must staff the checkpoint, and the officer has to stop cars at random intervals. Though they are considered unconstitutional to some people, the state of California does permit them to be used in efforts to deter drunk driving. In fact, California conducts up to 2,500 stops annually. You have the right to avoid the checkpoints. They must be advertised to the public in advance. You do not have the right to refuse to stop when requested, however, and do not have the right to refuse to comply if you are stopped and the officer asks you questions.
Use Common Sense
Consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney if you have questions about your rights during traffic stops. Reacting poorly because you were intimidated by the police officer may not be enough to have your case dismissed, but it is important to be able to stand up for your rights if they were violated. If you are facing criminal charges because of the stop, you should discuss your options with an attorney. For any California crime, the prosecution must prove a number of elements to convict you. An attorney can advise you on what points the prosecution will need to prove and how you can build a defense against them.
Do you have questions about your rights during traffic stops? If so, contact attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team for expert counsel. Experienced in criminal defense, our Visalia area legal team can advise you of your rights and help you with your case if you are facing charges. With over ten years of criminal defense experience, Christopher Martens will aggressively defend your rights and help you get the outcome you want. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.