Being pulled over by the police can be a frightening experience, even if you believe you didn’t break the law. It’s up to law enforcement to keep citizens safe and protect their rights. However, that doesn’t always happen. Unfortunately, some people suffer injuries or even death if the situation escalates.
Anyone stopped by the police is protected by certain constitutional rights and can invoke them at any time. Unfortunately, citizens who don’t know their rights or are intimidated by officers may comply with everything they’re told to do. It’s critical that you understand your rights and what you can do to prevent an unfavorable or harmful outcome from the encounter.
YOUR RIGHTS AGAINST SELF-INCRIMINATION
A law enforcement official is not allowed to pull you over without reason. They can’t stop you and hope to find something wrong, such as an expired registration or a warrant for your arrest. But that doesn’t mean some won’t try.
After being pulled over by the police, they might ask you questions. You don’t have to answer. You have the right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment, and you should let them know that you’re exercising that right. Even if you believe you could mitigate the situation by explaining what you’re doing and where you’re going, what you say will likely get entered into a police report. If you’re arrested after answering their questions, the prosecutor could use anything you said against you in court.
YOUR RIGHT TO REFUSE A SEARCH
The Fourth Amendment allows you to deny a request to search you or your vehicle after being stopped by the police. You must refuse verbally, not by just shaking your head. Tell them that you don’t consent to a search even if they don’t ask directly.
Law enforcement sometimes uses casual terms to confuse people. They might tell you to pop your trunk or ask to look through your purse or backpack. Those are similar questions to asking you for consent to a search, and you have a constitutional right to deny their request.
YOUR RIGHT TO REFUSE A FIELD SOBRIETY TEST
Driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher is illegal in Alabama. If law enforcement tells you to step out of your vehicle to take a field sobriety test, you can politely say no.
Most people don’t realize that it’s voluntary to consent to this type of testing, which is notoriously unreliable. Officers may act like you don’t have a choice in the matter, hoping they can obtain incriminating evidence against you. But there is no state law requiring you to submit to a field sobriety test.
However, it’s important to realize that under Alabama’s implied consent laws, drivers lawfully arrested for driving under the influence are required to submit to a chemical breath, urine, or blood test to determine their BAC. Refusing to take one of these requested tests will result in your license being suspended for 90 days. If you have refused one of these tests in the last five years, your license will be suspended for one year.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF THE POLICE VIOLATED MY RIGHTS?
If you believe an officer violated any of your rights during a traffic stop, staying calm and treating an officer with respect while invoking your rights can mean the difference between driving away unharmed and ending up behind bars.
If you’re charged with a crime, arrested, booked, or interrogated, you should immediately contact a criminal defense attorney. It might be possible to avoid paying a fine, going to jail, or facing criminal charges.