Police officers must uphold the rights of private citizens when making a traffic stop. For example, they must have probable cause to search your vehicle. Unfortunately, many citizens do not know that certain practices violate their civil liberties.

When the officer fails to preserve your legal rights during a traffic stop or arrest, the court may dismiss the charge. Drivers should know the answers to these common questions about their rights in this situation.

When can an officer pull over my vehicle?

Law enforcement can only detain your car if you have an open arrest warrant or court case, or if you have committed a moving violation such as speeding or reckless driving. Ask the officer why he or she is detaining you and if you are free to go.

Can an officer search my car?

You do not have to consent to a search of your vehicle. However, the officer can search the car if he or she has probable cause to suspect that you have committed a crime. Simply refusing to allow a search does not constitute probable cause. Probable cause may include the following:

  • Smelling contraband, such as alcohol or marijuana
  • Admission of a crime
  • Seeing evidence of a crime in plain view

Can I film my interactions with law enforcement?

You have the right to film during a traffic stop as long as you do not obstruct the officer. He or she may not take away your phone or camera. You may also ask the officer for his or her badge number.

What are my rights in an arrest?

If an officer places you under arrest, he or she must inform you of your rights. These include the right to remain silent, contact your attorney and retain the services of a court-appointed attorney if necessary. When law enforcement detains you, ask to see your lawyer right away. You have the right to make phone calls and speak to your attorney in private. A judge must hear your case within 48 hours.

When an officer pulls you over for a traffic stop, assert your rights while remaining calm and polite. If you do not consent to a search and do not want to incriminate yourself by answering questions, repeat this information to the officer when he or she asks.