Being pulled over by the police when you are driving in your vehicle can be a nerve-wracking and stressful experience. Whether you committed a traffic infraction, were driving under the influence of alcohol, or you didn’t do anything wrong, it’s important to understand your rights during a traffic stop. Knowing what your rights are can help ensure you protect yourself from law enforcement officers who may be overreaching.
It’s crucial to be aware that you have the following rights and obligations during a traffic stop in Pennsylvania:
The Fourth Amendment prohibits the government and police officers from performing unreasonable searches. Significantly, law enforcement is not permitted to pull your vehicle over for no reason. In fact, a police officer may not stop your vehicle unless they have probable cause or reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime or infraction.
Though it is important to remember that you should remain polite and courteous, you have the right to remain silent and not answer any questions asked by police officers at the traffic stop if you do not feel comfortable doing so. Depending on the circumstance, it may be best to decline providing the officers with a statement before speaking with an attorney. Anything you say that may be incriminating can be used against you at a later time.
Critically, there is a difference between a police officer asking if you would “mind stepping out of your vehicle” and ordering you to do so. If a police officer uses language such as “please step out of the vehicle” or “I need you to get out of the vehicle,” this constitutes a lawful order. Failure to step out of the vehicle could give the police officer a reason to believe that you present a threat to their safety — this can result in their searching the vehicle without consent. In such cases, anything the officer might find during the search can initiate an investigation. It’s best to comply with the officer’s orders to leave the vehicle.
You are not required to consent to a search of your vehicle or belongings. All you have to say is that you are refusing to give your consent — even if you do not think the police will find any incriminating evidence. If the police go ahead and conduct the search anyway, they will have to provide justification for their actions later. Failure to do so can result in their risking any evidence they found during the search being excluded in court.
As previously stated, it is important to always be as polite and courteous as possible during a traffic stop. However, in some scenarios it may be appropriate for you to exercise your right to leave if you are not being arrested.
If you have been stopped by law enforcement and you were not arrested, ask the officer if you are free to go. If the officer says no, ask them why you are being detained. In the event they cannot provide you with a valid reason, they may be illegally detaining you in violation of your Constitutional rights. While this doesn’t necessarily mean you should leave, be sure to take detailed notes concerning the incident as it may be used later in your court case.
In the event you are placed under arrest, you have the right to an attorney. Although you may not be able to get in touch with an attorney immediately, stating that you want an attorney can shut down communication with law enforcement. Specifically, by clearly asking the police officer for an attorney, you are preventing them from further interrogating you until your counsel is present.
It’s essential to understand the difference between your right to remain silent and the obligation police have to read you your Miranda rights. Although you can exercise the right to remain silent any time you are dealing with law enforcement, police are only required to read your Miranda rights before they conduct a custodial interrogation. Should the police fail to read you your rights prior to interrogating while you are in custody, any statements you provide after being taken into custody may be inadmissible in court.
If you have been stopped or taken into custody for a traffic-related offense, it’s vital to have a skilled criminal defense attorney on your side to ensure your Constitutional rights are protected. Located in Exeter, Pennsylvania, The Kulick Law Firm, LLC is committed to fighting for clients who are facing criminal charges and strive to obtain the best possible outcome in their cases. Call (570) 203-2756 to schedule a consultation to learn how we can help.