Most everyone has had the unenviable experience of being pulled over. Whether it’s a speeding ticket, or a warning for expired plates, being pulled over is pretty unpleasant time. Fortunately, these encounters tend to be brief and somewhat painless. Sometimes, however, they are not. What started as a simple traffic stop may quickly escalate into something more. This blog provides a brief overview of your rights during a traffic stop.
The Fourth Amendment protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” A seizure, for Fourth Amendment purposes, occurs whenever an officer restrains or terminates a person’s freedom of movement. This can occur through physical force, such as being physically restrained from leaving, or through show of authority, such as an officer showing their badge and commanding you to “stop”. As such, any time an officer performs a traffic stop, there are potential Fourth Amendment implications. In order for an officer to lawfully pull you over, the officer must have “reasonable suspicion.” This standard is fairly low to meet, and can always be met if You committed a traffic violation, such as running a red light.
Once an officer has performed a lawful traffic stop, it is important to know you still have rights. While you are required to provide your name, proof of insurance, and driver’s license, that is about all you are required to say as a general rule. A police officer cannot keep you detained for an unreasonable amount of time. If an officer keeps you detained for an unreasonable amount of time, then there may be an unconstitutional seizure.
An officer is, however, allowed to ask you any question he or she so chooses during a lawful traffic stop. However, you are not required to answer those questions that are incriminating. As our Supreme Court has explained, “[a]n officer making a traffic stop can ask questions of a detained motorist, but the detainee is not obligated to respond, and ‘unless the detainee's answers provide the officer with probable cause to arrest him, he must then be released.’”1
Traffic stops can be a headache for all of us, and sometimes, can lead to serious trouble. Knowing your rights is important part of protecting yourself in today’s society. The rules and exceptions to the Fourth Amendment protections can be complex and confusing. If you find yourself in trouble following a traffic stop, skilled counsel is crucial to protect your rights. This blog is written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle the full spectrum of criminal cases throughout Indiana. This blog is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.