A police car pulls out behind you and the flashing lights come on. You know that you have to stop. It does not matter if you know what you did wrong or not. You still have to stop. You pull over to the side of the road.
This is the point where many people assume that the police have all of the power and can do whatever they want. That's not true. You do have rights. The police are public servants. Do not forget about the power that you hold in a situation like this. Let's break down some of your rights.
Can you stay silent?
You can. The right to remain silent is a fundamental one that does apply to a traffic stop. After you identify yourself, just let the officer know that you don't want to answer any questions and leave it at that.
Can a passenger leave?
Maybe you're not even the driver. You're just a passenger and you want nothing to do with this situation. Ask the officer if you're being detained or if you're free to go. In many cases, you are free to leave, and you can simply exit the vehicle and walk away.
Do you need to sign anything?
No. This falls under your right to remain silent. You do not have to make a single decision without your legal team. If the police ask you to do so, just inform them that you want your lawyer. They have to honor that.
Should you show the officer your license?
Yes. The first thing the officer will do is request paperwork like your license, insurance and registration. You were driving, and you must have these things to do so legally. That's what you agreed to as a driver in the United States. Show them this information, but remember that you can stay silent after that.
What information do you need if the police go too far?
Unfortunately, the truth is that the police may violate your rights. When you think this has happened, make sure to gather as much information about the officers involved as you can. This may include their agency, their badge numbers, their patrol car numbers and things of this nature. The more documentation you have, the better. If you have footage from a cellphone or a dash camera, that may also help your case.
Your legal options
An encounter with the police can be surprising, stressful and even frightening. You may find yourself asking a lot of questions after the fact. As you move forward, make sure you are well aware of all of the legal options that you have.