MENU
component-ddb-728x90-v1-01-desktop

What are your rights when you're pulled over by a police officer?

The power that law enforcement officials embody has come into question recently surrounding potential abuse of police authority in the officer involved deaths of 18 year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the choke-hold death of Eric Garner.

One of the most common interactions between the police and civilians on a daily basis is the traffic stop. Police agencies are taking their own steps to make sure officer authority isn't being abused during traffic stops - many employing dash and body cameras to record officer-civilian interaction.

Knowing the rights offered to civilians in a traffic stop is a person's best line of defense if someone were to indeed run across an officer they perceive to be treating them unfairly. A common misconception though - the rights in one's car are far less than the rights in one's own home.

"I know a lot of times it comes out there and people think we just pull people over indiscriminately for no reason at all," said Captain Carl Minden, public information officer for the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office.

"We have to have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to pull you over."

Minden said probable cause is anything from a busted headlight to expired tags, moving violations, speeding - the list goes on. But Minden said knowing the reason for the traffic stop is one right that is afforded to drivers.

"I will tell you why I stopped you," said Minden. "You have the right to know that. You can't just be stopped indiscriminately. So we're going to tell you and then we're going to ask for those three famous pieces of paper - your driver's license, your registration and insurance."

Although you should stop for police immediately once an officer's blue lights have been turned on, civilians technically have the right to wait until they find a place they deem safe to stop. If the process of finding a place to pull over takes too long, it may give an officer the reasonable suspicion that you are doing something illegal or trying to evade police.

Legal experts suggest waiting until the deputy or officer asks for the essential driving documents - license, registration, and proof of insurance - before retrieving them. Officers may suspect someone is reaching for a weapon or stashing illegal substances if they see someone reaching for their driving documentation before instructed to do so.

Officers are required at some point during the traffic stop to provide their name to the person stopped. Capt. Minden said the requirement is part of Arkansas laws governing racial profiling.

"Either verbally, you can give them a card," said Minden, regarding officer name disclosure. "It can be on a warning or a ticket too."

One commonly thought of right during a traffic stop, specifically for a potential DWI arrest, is the right to refuse a breathalyzer.

Although it is your right in Arkansas to refuse a portable breathalyzer test, your license will be suspended for the next six months. The stipulation has to do with "implied consent" in Arkansas. When Arkansans receive their driver's license they actually give "consent" to getting a blood-alcohol test in the event they are pulled over for a possible DWI. It is one's right to refuse standard field sobriety tests like saying the ABC's backward or walking a straight line without consequence.

But where a lot of people either perceive or experience police abuse of power is when officers ask to search a vehicle. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents search and seizure without a warrant. But Gary Green, a personal injury attorney in Little Rock, said officers are entitled to a plain sight search and search of what's called the "lunge area".

"Any place that you might have a weapon primarily or where you might have concealed evidence - illegal activity," said Green, describing any area of the vehicle that could be deemed the "lunge area".

The term "lunge" refers to lunging to retrieve a weapon. The officer right to search the lunge area has to do with officer safety.

"Officers die on traffic stops a multitude of times during the year," said Capt. Minden. "A lot of times it's quick access to a weapon."

Deputies can request a full search of the vehicle without a warrant by simply asking the driver. Green said drivers have the right though to deny that request, however it could result in a driver's arrest.

"I must admit I'd be tempted to say, 'no - you don't have a warrant, I don't want you to search my vehicle,'" commented Green. "On the other hand, knowing that they can search your vehicle subsequent to an arrest - you're kind of inviting them to arrest you."

"Is every cop out there doing everything by the book - no, but the vast majority are," said Minden.

But both Minden and Green agree that the one thing drivers should never do is argue these rights with an officer. Green said to save the "theatrics" and "arguments" for court.

"I think that starting off with an attitude or starting off defensively perhaps adds to some of the escalations that we see," said Green.

Even if the interaction does not result in an arrest, but a driver still believes they were treated unfairly by an officer or deputy, it is their right to file a complaint with the officer's respective law enforcement agency.

"It may be an officer that we have something ongoing with and this could be the straw that breaks the camel's back," said Minden. "It could be something we don't know about, but it could just be more than likely a guy having a bad day."

Regardless of a bad day, it is a civilian's right to be treated with respect as long as the civilian is being respectful as well.

Trending