Know Your Rights

When you are stopped by the police on the roadside, it is important to know your rights and to understand what you are required to do and when you are able to say, "No thank you, officer!" The following are general guidelines that may vary with the situation:

  • You are required to produce a valid driver's license, proof of insurance and proper registration.
  • You are not required to provide information or make a statement beyond providing your basic identifying information. You do not have to disclose the details regarding your travel plans or itinerary.
  • You are not required to sit in the officer's car unless or until you are formally placed under arrest.
  • You can refuse a request to search your vehicle.
  • You can refuse a request to allow a dog to search the outside or inside of your vehicle.

Refusing to take a chemical test can result in the suspension of your driving privilege.

Silence is Golden - Saying as little as possible is generally to your advantage. It is tempting to think you can talk your way out of trouble, but it generally does not work. Prosecutors - not police officers - make decisions about who will be charged and who will be given leniency. The less that is said, the better.

Firmness - Officers are trained in methods designed to manipulate motorists into consenting to be searched and to make statements potentially incriminating themselves. You can, and in most cases should, politely decline an officer's request to search. You should also calmly and courteously refuse to provide any information.

Respect - Belligerent or combative attitudes draw attention and are used by law enforcement as a basis to justify further search and detention. On the roadside, the officer always has the advantage. The time and place to assert your rights and to contest the authority of the officer is usually reserved for the courtroom. Firmly saying "No" in a respectful manner generally sets the case up for the best legal result.

The importance of being aware of your rights cannot be understated. These rights are the protection against overreaching police and prosecution.

Fourth Amendment - Guards against unreasonable searches and seizures and requires that a search warrant supported by probable cause be issued by a judge before any searches are done.

Fifth Amendment - Protects citizens against abuse of government authority in any legal proceeding. Guarantees to citizens the right to remain silent and to not speak to the police.

Sixth Amendment - Ensures the right to an attorney in any criminal prosecution. If you cannot afford to hire your own, the court must appoint a lawyer to represent you.

This article was last updated on Friday, June 16, 2017.