If The Cops Pull You Over

If The Cops Pull You Over

Since I know that many of you will be hitting the road this week to be with family and friends – after all, this is the biggest travel week of the year – I want to share with you some information that was highlighted in Business Insider this week. The information concerns your rights if you get pulled over by the police.

To be honest, when I first stumbled across the Business Insider article, I expected it to be full of inaccuracies because much of what I read in this area is incorrect. But I was pleasantly surprised to see the article was accurate and contained a fair dose of common sense. And, believe me, when dealing with police officers during a traffic stop, you should use common sense.

So, since I know you have a lot to do this week to get ready for Thanksgiving, I’ll be brief and share these good points from the article in Business Insider which cites two attorneys – one of whom was a traffic court judge in NY.

Traffic Stops and Probable Cause:

“Cops can’t just randomly stop you and look for drugs in your car. They need a reason, or “probable cause,” like speeding or a broken tail light.”

“You don’t have to pull over until you can do so safely. …And if you can’t, you should notify the officer with a hand signal and drive the speed limit.”

You Have the Right to Stay in Your Car:

“’It’s perfectly legal for you to say in the vehicle, but doing so looks bad to the officer,’ Martin Kron (former traffic court judge) said. Officers often ask people to “step out of the car” as a safety precaution—to make sure the driver doesn’t have any concealed weapons. But it’s probably best to get out of the car to avoid a tense situation.”

Breathalyzers and Drug Tests:

“It’s not a good idea, but you can refuse a breathalyzer. Most states have a statute called “implied consent.” When you get your driver’s license, you agree to a breathalyzer when pulled over. You can technically still refuse a breathalyzer, but in many states you could get your license suspended for six months if you do. Now, if police suspect you of drug use, the protocol changes. Based on probable cause, the officer can take you back to the station for either a blood test or analysis from a drug recognition expert, according to Martin Kron.”

Police Checkpoints:

“Yes, drivers do have to stop at checkpoints. Police departments plan checkpoints ahead of time, but they must have a specific plan, such as stopping every third car (or every car), according to Martin Kron.”

Vehicle Searches without a Warrant:

“Cops can only search your car without a warrant for these 5 reasons:

  1. If you consent, police naturally have a right to search your car.
  2. “Plain view” also gives an officer the okay to search your car. “If an officer approaches your car and on the passenger seat he notices a baggie of marijuana … based on regular activities — meaning he doesn’t have to search too hard” then the pot is considered to be in plain view, Daniel Kron (traffic court attorney) said.
  3. The third reason is “search incident to arrest,” according to Daniel Kron. Basically, if an officer arrests you with probable cause, he or she can then search your vehicle.
  4. Your car can be searched if an “officer has probable cause to suspect a crime,” Daniel Kron said. For example, it’s not illegal to have blood on your front seats, to have a black eye, or to have a ripped-up purse in the car. But all those things in conjunction could be suspicious to an officer.
  5. Lastly, “exigent circumstances,” allow a warrantless search. Before an officer receives a warrant, he can “break every rule if he suspects the evidence is about to be destroyed,” Daniel Kron said.”

Vehicle Searches with a Warrant:

“You have to let them search your car if they have a warrant, but some limits apply to the areas they can search. “If a police officer believes you have a gun in your vehicle, he’s not allowed to search in an area too small to hold it,” Daniel Kron noted. In that case, the glove box may be fair game but not the cigarette lighter.

“Even if police find something incriminating the warrant didn’t stipulate—like drugs in the glove box while looking for a gun—the “plain sight” exception applies. They’ll still charge you.”

Now I know there may be some folks who disagree with the way police can legally search vehicles and the concept of “implied consent.”

Heck, I have problems with many areas of the law as it has developed when it comes to vehicle stops, checkpoints, and vehicle searches.

But, as I said at the beginning of this advisory, you need to use common sense when interacting with a police officer during a traffic stop. And I think the information and advice from the Krons provides both the current law and a few examples of what also makes sense.

In closing, I am starting to work on a more detailed document that will address interactions and confrontations with the police.

I’d love for you to share the experiences you’ve had with police officers over the years. What happened? How did it turn out? Were you treated fairly? Did the officer cross the line in any way? Tell me by sending an email to [email protected]

Happy Thanksgiving from everyone at the Self-Reliance Institute!!

And, as always, be safe and secure!!

Rob Douglas

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