Login | November 26, 2020

OSBA column: Your rights during a traffic stop

CHANDA BROWN
Law You Can Use

Published: November 6, 2020

Today, many people are feeling discouraged at the state of relations with law enforcement. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the most common reason a person has an encounter with the police is a traffic stop – and traffic stops sometimes require prolonged, one-on-one contact between citizens and law enforcement. It is important to know your rights and how to respond to officers when you are stopped or approached, especially in common interactions like traffic stops.
You Have the Right to Remain Silent
Under the Fifth Amendment, you do not have to answer an officer’s questions during a traffic stop beyond requests for your license, registration and proof of insurance. You do not have to answer any questions about where you are going, what you are doing or where you live. If you plan to exercise your right to remain silent, be sure to say so out loud.
In general, you do not have to talk to law enforcement officers, even if you do not feel free to walk away from the officer, you are arrested or you are in jail. You cannot be punished for refusing to answer a question. In general, only a judge can order you to answer questions.
It is a good idea to talk to a lawyer before agreeing to answer questions as anything you say to a law enforcement officer can be used against you and others. Keep in mind that lying to a government official is a crime, but remaining silent until you consult with a lawyer is not. Even if you have already answered some questions, you can refuse to answer other questions until you have a lawyer.
The exception to your right to remain silent is that you must provide your name to law enforcement officers if you are stopped and told to identify yourself and the officer has a reasonable suspicion that you committed, are committing or are about to commit a crime or infraction. But even if you give your name, you are not required to answer other questions.
You Have the Right to Refuse a Search
Under the Fourth Amendment, you are protected from “unreasonable” searches and seizures. You do not have to agree to a search of yourself or of your belongings. The police officer may pat down your clothing if they suspect you have a weapon. Keep in mind that you should only verbally refuse the search request. Do not try to physically resist the search as this could escalate the situation and result in additional charges or injuries. Be sure to state loudly and clearly that you are objecting to the search to help preserve your rights in any later legal proceedings.
You Have the Right to Ask For a Lawyer
Ask the officer if you are free to leave or if you are under arrest. If you have been arrested, you have Miranda rights. This means that you have the right to remain silent and you have the right to an attorney.
You have the constitutional right to talk to a lawyer before answering questions, and the lawyer’s job is to further protect your rights. If you say that you want to talk to a lawyer, officers should stop asking you questions. If they continue to ask questions, you still have the right to remain silent. Even if you do not have a lawyer, you may still tell the officer you want to speak to one before answering questions.
If you do have a lawyer, keep his or her business card with you. Show it to the officer and ask to call them. Remember to get the name, agency and telephone number of any law enforcement officer who stops or visits you and give that information to your lawyer.
About the Author
Chanda L. Brown is a partner with Walton + Brown LLP in Columbus. She is a nationally recognized trial attorney with extensive experience in complex serious personal injury, wrongful death, civil rights and employment litigation matters. Brown has also served as a guest legal analyst on the true crime show, “For My Man” on TV One, and has made appearances as a legal expert on numerous nationally syndicated programs, including CBS This Morning and NewsOne Now.
Learn more about Chanda Brown in her OSBA member spotlight.
Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from a licensed attorney.


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