Exercising Your Rights Safely: Being Safe During a Traffic Stop
In a previous article, we looked at your rights during a traffic stop when you are stopped. In this article, we will look at the best practices for exercising your rights safely when you have done nothing wrong. This includes our tips for reducing exposure to suspicion, as follows.
Always do the following:
- Be polite.
- Be respectful.
- Keep your hands visible.
- Ask to leave often. Not asking can be seen as staying voluntarily.
- Ask for cause. Officers must articulate observed suspicion.
- Ask if requests are orders. You have the right to clarification.
- Report any violations of your rights. You can file reports with internal affairs for the police agencies, and should do so, so that bad police officers can be identified and removed from service for a pattern of conduct.
- Record any encounters immediately. (See below).
Recording or Filming a Police Encounter
You may legally video and audio record a police officer performing official duties while in public.
Rights of the Officer. An officer may not:
- confiscate your recording equipment
- demand to see footage
- delete footage without a warrant
You, as the individual recording, may not:
- Interfere with the officer’s duties. For example, if the officer says “stand back”, you must do so.
- Physically resist. If an officer reaches for your device, do not resist or fight him or her, just report it.
Your Miranda Rights during a Stop
Miranda rights are only read to you once you are in police custody. That is known legally as custodial interrogation. Following are some common questions and answers from traffic stops that avoids you making a confession or admission before you are in custody or have to be read Miranda rights.
Question: Have you had anything to drink tonight?
Best Answer: “Respectfully, officer, I don’t have to answer that.”
Question: Not answering is suspicious. Why are you resisting?
Best Answer: I’m not resisting. Respectfully, I don’t have to answer anything.
Question: If you have nothing to hide, you don’t mind if I look around?
Best Answer: I’m sorry officer, but I don’t consent to searches.
Question: If you refuse a search, I’ll have to call a K-9 unit.
Best Answer: Officer, are you detaining me, or am I free to go?
Checkpoints are usually either part of a scheduled DUI or Driver’s License Checkpoint, part of a Border Stop when entering the United States of America, or part of a Drug Search.
DUI Checkpoints: The US Supreme Court has held that a DUI stop at a roadblock as part of a DUI checkpoint is legal, as it protects the public from an “imminent public danger”. The same rules as any traffic stops apply.
Border Stops/Inspections: Agents may legally search anything, including closed containers, as part of a condition of entering the country. No warrant is needed. The same rules as any traffic stops apply otherwise.
Drug Checkpoints or Stops: The US Supreme Court has ruled that random checkpoints to search for drugs, or for the sole purpose of finding drugs, are unconstitutional.
Drug Checkpoint Signs: On a related note, if you ever see a sign that says “DRUG CHECKPOINT IN 1 MILE”, which are more common in states other than California, know that those are a police trap. Do not exit. There typically is no drug checkpoint, but police look for all of the following reasons to pull people over, as potential probable cause for drug searches:
- Illegal U-Turns
- Littering (or throwing things out of the car); and
- Suspiciously exiting, or making any traffic violations.